Critics have some rather interesting things to say about Jamaica Kincaid's work; namely, it's just way too angry.
Angry? Huh? We've never heard that one before, but back in 1990 it was one of the strongest complaints leveled against her novel Lucy. These critics wanted to know: in such an angry story, where is the love?
The premise of Lucy doesn't exactly sound like it would be brimming with rage. The story itself doesn't even sound all that dramatic: a teenage girl leaves her home in the West Indies to work as a babysitter for a family in the United States. Adjusting to life in a whole new country turns out to have its share of challenges, though, which actually ends up resulting in a whole lot of drama.
We're not going to lie, it is true that you'll be more likely to find expressions of outrage than lollipops and unicorns in Kincaid's work, but the author herself has fired back at critics to say that disliking her work just because it's angry is a pretty lame reason to dismiss it. In fact, she happens to think that some of her earliest work was too "unangry" and that she "would never write like that again." [Source].
Looks like the haters are gonna keep on hating. But never mind them—Kincaid has won tons of awards for her writing, including the Guggenheim award for fiction in 1985. In 2011, she was also awarded an honorary doctorate of Humane Letters from Tufts University, and you know they don't hand out those titles to just anybody.
It's probably better that Kincaid became a writer rather than a nanny like her title character in Lucy. Kincaid was no Mary Poppins. When she was fifteen years old, she was supposed to be babysitting her younger brother but got distracted reading a book. Kincaid's mom was pretty upset when she came home to find the little guy hanging out in a wet diaper. To teach the bookworm a lesson, her mother got all of Kincaid's books together, dumped kerosene on them, and set them on fire [Source].
Yikes. We'd be pretty mad, too.
Being a teenager can be pretty rough. Between dealing with parents who expect you to do whatever they say (the nerve!) and putting up with your friends' latest Facebook drama, it might seem like the only solution is to escape to a completely different country.
In Lucy, Kincaid's title character does just that. Fed up with her life in the Caribbean, nineteen-year-old Lucy books a one-way plane ticket to the U.S. On the surface, her new life seems pretty sweet: she lives in a swanky apartment working for a rich family, hangs out at cool museums in the big city, and hooks up with hot guys.
But things are far from perfect. Not only does Lucy find out that living in a completely different country comes with its own drama, she discovers that leaving your problems behind at home doesn't mean that they won't end up following you.
If you've ever felt like getting away from it all, you'll totally relate to Lucy. And you might just take some comfort in her revelation that the grass really isn't always greener, even when it's on the other side of the hemisphere.
The Life and Times of Jamaica Kincaid
A detailed biography and some cool quotes
Kincaid cracks the top 20 of "101 Weird Writers"
Home Sweet Home
Check out Kincaid's homeland of Antigua.
Happy Endings? Pfft.
An interview with Kincaid in which she explains why she refuses to give readers a happy ending
Truth, Race, and other Heavy Subjects
Kincaid tackles the tough questions in this interview
An interview in which Kincaid discusses, among other things, the impact of gender on her life
People's Portrait of Kincaid
Who Says People magazine is only good for celebrity gossip?
Q&A with Ms. Kincaid
Did you know Kincaid loves to eat in bed?
Kincaid addresses the 2012 graduating class of Grinnell College (listen for a shout out to Lucy!)
Woman of the Hour
A pic of Kincaid
A cover of Lucy featuring the painting Savage Poems, 1896, by Paul Gauguin