Arrival of the Snake Woman- Short Stories of a Familiar Jamaica.
In this collection of short stories, Olive Senior gives us a vibrant look into the lives of ordinary Jamaicans. These stories cover a variety of themes, including; classism, sexism, colourism, and the role religion plays in shaping the identities of rural communities.
Beginning with the titular story, in Arrival of the Snake Woman, a small community witnesses change with the advent of Miss Coolie. Through the eyes of young Ishmael, we see the prejudices and misinformed beliefs that the community holds towards people or practices they did not know or understand; how the arrival of Parson Bedlow and his wife disrupt the relationship that the community once had with Papa Dias and Mother Miracle, both elders who at the height of their power exuded quite the influence with their rituals and balms.
Nolene reflects on her childhood, comparing spending time with family in 'country' learning the names of birds, ring games and being free with a mother who was more interested in upward social mobility and keeping up appearances. In The Tenantry of Birds, as her husband takes a more active role in the changing political landscape of the country, sending her overseas, Nolene begins questioning the choices she made, all in attempt to please mother and husband. When she returns to Jamaica, with the intentions of becoming more involved with her husbands endeavours, Nolene finds that she has been replaced; leaving her to look inside herself, and find a strength of character she never knew she possessed.
The Two Grandmothers, sees a young girl come of age with strong ties to her grandmothers, both living very different lives. Over time, she gravitates towards the materialistic lifestyle of her maternal grandmother, becoming less interested in the simple lifestyle she had so enjoyed while growing up. As she gets older, it becomes clear that her thick,curly hair and dark complexion are seen as undesirable, which leads to her questioning her worth.
In Tears of the Sea, a little girl with no parents or friends, longs for the sea. It is a mysterious body that she has heard and seen glimpses of. When a truckload of sand is delivered to her backyard, she finds a friend in a most perfect seashell, one who shares with her wonderful stories of the sea. But that friendship is threatened as she falls ill and is confined to her bed, and upon emerging, finds the sand has gone, along with all her shells, leaving only the barest trace.
See the Tiki-Tiki Scatter, finds a young lady with nothing but songs to occupy her time, turtles and tiki-tiki to observe, marvel at and who are the only audience for her musical renditions. She begins to ponder the depths of the pond, wondering what would await her if she were to part the surface of the water and emerge on the other side.
An older man reflects on his life and relationships in The View from the Terrace. A house springs up on the hillside Mr. Barton has claimed as his own, and this spurs a barrage of assumptions, conclusions and affront. When confronted with the knowledge that a single mother lives there with her children; he begins to reminisce on his own family and the changing racial and social tides of the country as it approached independence. He also thinks on the reasons that led to the degradation of his relationship with his children, how they veered off the path he set for them, not realizing that his domineering personality is the cause. It all becomes too much, when in the rainy season, he learns that his manservant, Marcus, as well as all the other villagers know the woman on the hillside, and in the days leading up to the torrential downpour, moved her into his house.
In the final story, Lily, Lily, a narrator tells the story of Lily and Lily, both raised to be pleasing and agreeable and destined to share a dark destiny. We are given clues through tidbits of gossip, and are able to glean the truth of a secret that binds the women in this family. Raised to be wives and never encouraged to think for themselves, indiscretions that would ruin their reputations are swept under the rug; but are revealed when a young Lily makes known the molestation she faces at the hands of her 'father', leading Lily to finally take steps to break the damaging cycle in which the women of her family seem determined to remain.
Olive Senior writes these stories with a deliberateness that speaks to the themes that she wanted to highlight. Themes that were prevalent in the society that she grew up in. The stories ring true, for anyone who has ever lived in a small community, will immediately perceive the community mix-up, prejudice, religiosity, hierarchy, social and divisive influences that hold sway, all which still exist today.