Book: Men and Misfits
Author: Lyndon Baptiste
Critic: Dr Glenville Ashby
From the imaginative mind of Lyndon Baptiste, searing tales of everyday life emerge, etched in our bosom, a telling reminder of Providence’s handiwork. Baptiste proves the consummate raconteur introducing a slew of indelible characters in the book’s opening salvo, Pyzan.
Pyzan is an inveterate sot whose misfortunes sap his will to live. Deported from the United States on drug charges, a once promising life evaporates.
He drowns his sorrows with alcohol, and is often times unglued, a nuisance, a pathetic figure at best. He aims his invectives at his brother with accusations of theft after the death of their mother. He is unabashed, intrepid.
Other characters – Andy, Cow, Ribs, Neil, Uncle Bertram, Backside, Uncle Spoon and Riley add colour and spirit to Baptiste’s literary canvas. In Baptiste’s village, there is an uneasy homogeneity. Cracks surface in this Indian community. There are squabbles over land and racial stereotyping is rife.
In a memorable scene, Andy’s parents are sent black angels to decorate the Christmas tree. His mother is appalled. “Have you ever heard of black angels?” she asks. “The only black angel I know is the angel of death.”
And Neil, Andy’s father, drives a stake in the heart of every traditionalist when he converts to Christianity.
Although Neil has a change of heart on racist views when he converts to Christianity, he shocks his son when, slightly inebriated, utters the unforgiving, “Look at the size of them seven nig–rs,” referring to guys who entered a bar. In this village, the words, “nig–r” and “c–lie” are used almost instinctively while skin colour could well determine one’s rung in the totem pole.
Delivered with levity and the rhythm of the spoken word, Pyzan unremittingly sheds light on perennial social issues. The specter of race comes alive and so too the ubiquitous vestiges of colonialism. No one seems to be spared racial insults; no one is fully trusted and respected, except Mr. Bertram and his family. For obvious reasons. He is a mulatto, perceived as a white man in a village where all things American are spoken of in near hagiographic terms.
Baptiste’s village is stereotypically ‘East Indian.’ Wanton drunkenness and family disputes are coupled with thriftiness and industry. It is a paradox that well captures this thought-provocative saga.
The lukewarm “In the Desert” and “Mouse in the House” follow the riveting Pyzan. The former is timely, addressing the burgeoning tug-o-war between modernity and tradition, while the latter proves to be an inconsequential short story of a pestering, annoying mouse. That Baptiste momentarily stumbled in this chancy, banal offering is likely.
He returns, though, in inimitable style in the enlightening commentary, “A case for exemption,” an engaging expose on corruption, violence, and a pervasive, pernicious climate of calumny and fear that grips Trinidad.
Here, judicial integrity is severely compromised and a concerned husband implores his wife to reconsider jury duty. “If it’s murder case the bad men will find you. They shoot up jurors, blow up their houses, kidnap their children. People have to run from Trinidad. Live like rats in New York.”
And this violence is driven home, becoming even more personal in ‘Ronnie’s brother.’ Even the most boisterous of school children are crestfallen, silenced by a society on the cusp of disintegration.
Baptiste injects wit, irony, and a dose of double entendre in the highly interpretive ‘Poor people will suffer.’ Subliminally, we are made to reflect on some of the deadly sins that have long ravaged humanity.
Dusk descends on Baptiste’s work with ‘The Regulars,’ a dizzying portrayal of downtime in Trinidad renowned for heavy drinking, bragging, womanizing, and even tragedy. And in this torn society, revelry can also be cut short by wanton robbery.
And the vividly descriptive ‘Gus,’ set in California, USA, narrates the existential exploits of a veteran soldier while highlighting the awkwardness of cultural sensibilities.
After the critically acclaimed, ‘Boy Days’ and ‘Oh My Testicles,’ Baptiste took a hiatus. There was a void, a silence that deafened. ‘Men and Misfits’, his new material is vintage, written with an unmistakable joie de vivre that grabs our attention. For his many followers it was worth the wait.
Men and Misfits
Copyright © 2017 by Lyndon Baptiste
Publishers: Potbake Productions, Trincity, Trinidad
Available at Amazon
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