Critical Context (Masterplots II: African American Literature)
Fourth among his published novels, The Wine of Astonishment shares with Lovelace’s other works his continuing concern for the black oppressed people of the Caribbean. Lovelace is not afraid to confront the social issues of the day. The prevalence of political corruption, the destructiveness of misguided warriorship, the Western and class bias against African culture (in this case a religion), and betrayal by black middle-class intellectuals are issues that plague the postcolonial societies of the region.
Lovelace, unlike other writers who address the problems of the society, is not altogether hopeless in his prognostication. The ills of the society and the corruptibility of individuals and institutions are balanced by the ability of the people to adapt and survive, constantly creating new cultural forms to ensure their dignity and personhood. The “spirit” may leave the church, but the steel band is created to inherit that spirit.
Another achievement of Lovelace’s The Wine of Astonishment is his ability to deliver his narrative through Eva, herself a Spiritual Baptist. He captures both the language and the sentiments of the Baptist community with a sensibility that suggests a deep understanding of that religion. That he can sustain both for an entire novel is truly a mark of great skill as a writer. In the introduction to the 1986 edition of his text, critic Marjorie Thorpe notes that this linguistic skill “from the outset, encourages the reader to believe that he is in fact listening to the artless, unstructured narrative of a simple peasant woman.”
Just as he had infused the rhythm of the steel band and calypso into the language of the ordinary folk in The Dragon Can’t Dance, Lovelace infuses the rhythm of the Trinidad dialect and the Baptist sermon into the language of Eva in The Wine of Astonishment. At times, this language reflects the spirit possession characteristic of the Baptist church. As he had done in his previous novel, he eschews grammatical convention and chooses to focus on capturing the rhythm of the Baptist religious service in his writing.