What I Have Been Doing Lately by Jamaica Kincaid

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Critical Overview

(Short Stories for Students)

Kincaid’s style is perhaps one of the most applauded aspects of At the Bottom of the River. As Laurence Breiner noted in West Indian Literature, Kincaid ‘‘displayed prodigious technical virtuosity’’ in crafting At the Bottom of the River. Suzanne Freeman wrote in Ms. that ‘‘what Kincaid has to tell us, she tells . . . in a series of images that are as sweet and mysterious as the secrets that children whisper in your ear.’’ Wendy Dutton, in World Literature Today, similarly stated Kincaid’s use of language is ‘‘the magic of At the Bottom of the River.’’ She commented that Kincaid’s language is ‘‘as rhythmic and riddlesome as poetry.’’ In the Times Literary Supplement, Ike Onwordi furthered this complement by stating that ‘‘Jamaica Kincaid uses language that is poetic without affectation. She has a deft eye for salient detail.’’ Thulani Davis also noticed Kincaid’s mastery of detail, and in an article for the New York Times Book Review stated that ‘‘Ms. Kincaid is a marvelous writer whose descriptions are richly detailed; her sentences turn and surprise even in the bare context she has created.’’

For some critics, Kincaid’s writing is somewhat hard to understand. Suzanne Freeman, in her 1984 Ms. article, recognized that ‘‘not everyone is willing to decipher the secrets’’ of Kincaid’s fiction. Edith Milton, in her review for the New York Times Book Review, questioned whether Kincaid’s stories were ‘‘too personal and too peculiar to translate into any sort of sensible communication.’’ Kincaid’s work is consistently autobiographical; this may account for the intensely personal and sometimes oblique nature of her symbolism and imagery. Kincaid has disenchanted some of her critics with her unconventional, complex style and her intense portrayals of conflict within mother/ daughter relationships. Since writing At the Bottom of the River, Kincaid has shifted to a more narrative, less abstract style, but she continues to treat the themes of colonial power, mother/daughter relationships, and the evolution from childhood to adulthood in her works.