I brought Marlon James’s novel A Brief History of Seven Killings (Riverhead Books) on vacation to Mexico, although it is a bit hefty for a carry-on bag let alone a beach bag; I only made it through 314 pages of the novel before returning to Vancouver and putting it into the freezer: according Internet research, it takes a minimum of five days at minus five degrees Celsius (the temperature of the average household freezer) to kill potential bed bugs and their eggs or depending on where you live in Canada, it might still be cold enough in March that leaving your luggage outside for a day or two would do it. I kept my copy of Seven Killings in the freezer for one full week and have now returned, worry-free, to the partly fictionalized ghettos of 1970s Jamaica where at the centre of the story Bob Marley has just survived a shooting four days before he’s to play the Smile Jamaica concert and less than a week away from a national election that has everyone on edge. And I’ve just been introduced to Kim Clarke, a Jamaican who swears she’ll leave Jamaica “whether on a plane or in a box.” She’s one of the fifteen or so characters including CIA agents, gangsters, drug dealers, and even a ghost that take turns narrating each chapter of the story about a post-independent Jamaica at its most violent. The intricate plot takes you back and forth between tricky Jamaican dialects and American accents, giving each character a distinct voice, and with a whopping cast of about seventy-five characters, the novel demands more attention than you can realistically give after several margaritas. It’s just as well that I’ll be enjoying the last 374 pages on weekends in between the sobering reality of forty-hour workweeks.
Originally Published in Geist Magazine No. 100 Spring 2016