‘‘What I Have Been Doing Lately’’ was first published in the Paris Review in 1981. Kincaid included this piece in her first published book, At the Bottom of the River (1983), which earned her the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. According to Leslie Garis in her New York Times Magazine article about Kincaid, At the Bottom of the River made Kincaid ‘‘an instant literary success.’’ David Leavitt, in his review for the Village Voice, praised Kincaid for ‘‘her ability to articulate the internal workings of a potent imagination without sacrificing the rich details of the external world on which that imagination thrives.’’
‘‘What I Have Been Doing Lately’’ is an elliptical, almost surreal narrative that begins with the words, ‘‘What I have been doing lately,’’ and proceeds to depict, in list-like form, a series of actions engaged in by the unidentified and nameless narrator. The narrator, summoned from bed by a ringing doorbell, opens the door to find no one there. After stepping outside and looking north and south, the narrator walks north, seeing the planet Venus in the sky, a monkey in a leafless tree, and finally an impassable body of water. After years pass, the narrator boards a boat, crosses the body of water, and continues along a straight path through a pasture, observing a dog and then a goat that each ‘‘looked the other way when it saw me coming.’’ When the narrator turns to look at the path behind her, everything has changed: it has become hilly and the landscape is full of flowering trees. Turning to continue on, the narrator finds that a deep dark hole has opened up in the ground. Wondering what is at the bottom, she jumps in. Her fall makes her feel ill, and she begins to long for her loved ones. She...
(The entire section is 467 words.)