Wednesday, October 31, 2018

CHOP IT UP: Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson

Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson

So let’s summarize this three star read.  

Brown Girl in the Ring takes on a futuristic urban Toronto where the rich and wealthy have fled the inner city to keep away from the dangerous and troubled others.  This moves leaves the violent and murderous power over the city, in all their recklessly and unsympathetic glory.  To the determinant of the remaining downtrodden and disenfranchised innocents, they are stuck in the ugly walls and rules of the new Toronto.  

In enters Ti-Jeanne, a young mother grappling with newfound motherhood and living with a hyper-shamanistic grandmother.  Said shamanistic grandmother has roots deep in Caribbean traditions, including the kind geared toward wielding magic spells.  And it's Ti-Jeanne's grandmother who drills her on the importance of carrying on their family's cultural and magical traditions, as well as suffocating Ti-Jeanne with her overprotective and overburden concerns.

Unfortunately, despite showing innate abilities to communicate with Caribbean gods and goddess, Ti-Jeanne is reluctant to take part in her grandmother's beliefs.  Until Ti-Jeanne’s baby’s father comes seeking her help.  He works for a crime boss who shuttles drugs and harvests human organs for the rich and, having been caught sniffing some of the supplies, must now bring his boss a human heart fit for a politician looking for a transplant.  Though he's not a murderer, it's either the life of the transplant victim or his own. 

Suddenly Ti-Jeanne is forced to confront her family’s roots in servicing gods and goddesses to keep him, her baby, and her family protected from the organized evil knocking at their door.  And her family's connections to this evil runs much deeper than water.  It's all blood.

So first, what I did enjoy took place in the "inactive" areas of the book. Or the beginning’s relationship-heavy slices.

I loved the time Hopkinson’s spent in laying out Ti-Jeanne and her struggles as a character. Her being a mother was an issue. Her coming to terms with her walk-out mother was another. And, as well, she had issues with her baby’s father, Tony, who was back in her life. Hopkinson took care to spend time revisiting their past relationship as lovers. She also spent time going into its downfall due to Tony’s drug addiction. The issue of Ti-Jeanne not informing Tony how her baby was theirs complicated matters. And Tony himself was well-drawn, as he fought with loving Ti-Jeanne while working for a crime boss. And it's this boss who had him by the balls every step he took. So, needless to say, their drama had my undivided attention.

There was something poetic, hopeful, and sincere oozing out of the pages between the two. I liked what Hopkinson did with them. Even if it was leading to the activities seen halfway through where the "outrageous” took over. And where everything–and I mean everything–she built between the two flipped the damn script. That flipping of the script after such a budding opening may have been Hopkinson's intent. But I would be lying if I said it didn't hurt.

So it was at one pivotal, climatic point when things started to kind of crumble to me. Characters who were bright and highlighted with strength found themselves in a faith that was blunt, brutal, and downright nasty despite all the flavor Hopkinson had installed within them. It was explosive. Unexpected. And warranted a little more thought and response given how well she developed them.

And that’s where the line drew with me. The subtlety and poetics at the beginning of the book went out the window for the outrageous and fantastical. It was as if a knob turned and the story shifted gears and pace. Exciting, thrilling and gripping in its exchange? Absolutely. But, and once again this is just me, at the expensive of the inferred and warmth delivered in the beginning. Frankly, the later use of play between gods/goddesses, spells, and so forth and so on could’ve been a touch more tenuous. Which was the case before the tone of the book went rabid. Tradition, ceremony, ghost, voodoo, hoodoo, demons, spirits, gods/goddesses; Hopkinson threw everything at the reader. Plus the kitchen sink. And many, many plot twists shot forth with a brief processing period before the next unveiling. It's one of those instances where less is most certainly more.

Even so, Brown Girl in the Ring was loaded with supernatural fun. It was full of cultural references to Caribbean traditions, beliefs, and ceremony. It provided all the richness one could ask. Still I wish Hopkinson held the pace and tentative approach delivered at the beginning of the novel to sweep its ending.

But don’t get me wrong. The later parts of the book were some damn good stuff and worthy of the read.

I can’t help but notice the differences. So it’s up to the individual reader to decide what they like most. The reflective, slow study of beating obstacles and odds toward persevering for love. Or the fast-paced supernatural business of making deals with gods to follow-up your vengeance in the face of betrayal.

At the end of the day, this book saved Hopkinson’s place on my reading list. While disappointed with Sister Mine, Brown Girl in the Ring encouraged me to order a copy of Hopkinson’s Midnight Robber.

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