Patsy: Nicole Dennis-Benn Weaves Another Literary Experience.
In Nicole Dennis-Benn's second novel; she presents a woman that moves away from all she has known to make a better life for herself, but as Patsy finds out, all is not rosy in the land of opportunity; and once again proves that she is a weaver of experiences. Dennis-Benn is painting a picture familiar to any immigrant who has ever left their country of birth to build an improved life for themselves and their families.
Patsy is a smart, but damaged woman. Denied the opportunities that would have seen her propelled to success, Patsy tries to eke out survival for herself and her daughter in Pennyfield. Pennyfield is not an affluent community and chances are few and far between for advancement. And that is all that Patsy wants.
In the very first few chapters, we are pulled along with Patsy as she embarks on securing an American visa. She approaches the embassy with doubts and apprehension, what should she say, how should she respond-with the truth or a lie. She is relieved when she is granted that oh so prized stamp in her Jamaican passport, as well as guilty when her thoughts run to Tru. Right away, Patsy allows her thoughts to sweep her up in the romanticization of establishing herself in America, all without acknowledging that it might not be as easy as she hears it is. We however have to face that Patsy might not just be going to America to elevate herself and her family, but to live out a fantasy of finally being able to love and live a dream life with her childhood friend Cicely. Again, she is in for a rude wake-up call.
Dennis-Benn gives us a nuanced and flawed character that has had such trauma and strife in her life. An overly religious mother who at times forgets to properly care for her child, leading to Patsy seeking love and affection in any form or situation that she can find it. This often leads to devastating effects, such as sexual abuse by a man that should have been responsible for her physical, mental and emotional well-being. Add in a light-skinned, straight-haired, 'beautiful' friend who without trying, gets so much affection and attention, that Patsy is willing to 'put out' just to feel seen. This is prevalent in a society that puts certain pressures on young girls growing up, preferring to give insubstantial warnings and advice without addressing the root of issues through informed conversations. ''Jus' be a good girl, be obedient and I will come back for you''; "di Lawd will provide", as if in order to be valued and rewarded, you should just move through the world being quiet, subservient, full of faith and unassertive.
Layer by layer, Patsy's past is revealed and it becomes clear to the reader all that she is dealing with and what she has to overcome. The despondency she felt as a new mother, manifested in the way she viewed motherhood and being a mother. In America, Patsy has to come to terms with Cicely not being the girl she remembered and the woman she came to know through their letters, as well as guilt at her inability to reach out to her daughter, compounded by her years of tending other people's children.
What I loved about this book is that the supporting characters are just as important in driving the story as our titular character. Tru grows up believing her mother is coming back for her, and holds on to this while living with her father, step-mother and step-brothers. When she comes to the realization that this may not be what awaits her, she wonders what she did that caused her mother to leave her behind. In an attempt to fill that hole, she turns to football and starts to experiment with self-harm. Roy is as flawed as any of the other characters, but throughout the book drops gems that brings a lot of reality into the plot. Although not the most present and involved father, he does support Tru in her interests and impresses on her the importance of her education. Mama G is frustrating in that her zealous religiosity blinds her to her own shortcomings as a mother and grandmother. Cicely fell into becoming the pretty trophy wife, tossing her dreams of becoming a nurse aside to secure being kept in finery by an abusive husband, and in the end when she finally realized that what she really wanted was to be with Patsy, it was too late. Claudette was the fresh breeze that whisks the cobwebs away and allows our girl to finally face what she has been denying and needs to accept, in order to heal and move forward freely and unencumbered.
Dennis-Benn depicts an unfiltered view of the society that both mother and daughter exist in as queer women. A society that is unyielding and intolerant to anyone that exists outside of the established sexual norm (heterosexuality); to the therapeutic value of talking through and acknowledging trauma, which dangerously perpetuates a cycle where healing can be difficult to achieve.
Everything comes full circle when Patsy is told of what has befallen Tru. She is finally able to confront herself and why she never reached out to Tru all the years she had been away. Patsy is able to accept herself fully; her identity, her sexuality and her unfulfilled love of Cicely (all with the help of Claudette); to fully heal and be the mother that she can be, not the mother she should be.
Nicole Dennis-Benn writes characters faced with neglect, loss, detachment, prejudices, overzealous and hurtful religiosity, societal expectations, self-denial, self-actualization and reconciliation. Patsy is a melting-pot of emotions and experiences of not only Patsy, but every one who has impacted her life as well.
An immersive read that proves that Dennis-Benn is here to stay.