Mr. Potter

by Jamaica Kincaid

Mr. Potter is an illiterate chauffeur in Antigua whose only notable achievement in life was to sire a large number of daughters with different mothers, none of which he acknowledged, let alone supported.  The story is told by one of Mr. Potter's unacknowledged daughters who returns to the island sometime after her father's funeral to try to make some sense of his existence.  She is the first person in the family who could read and write and felt compelled to record Mr. Potter's story.  

I don't know what to make of this book.  My first impression was that the author had written a 50 page novel and was asked by her editor to expand it to 195.  But how much can you say about a man who seems to have accomplished nothing more in life than learning how to drive a car.   With nothing more to tell, the only expansion device available would seem to be repetition.  Here is the first sentence in the book:

"And that day, the sun was in its usual place, up above and in the middle of the sky, and it shone in its usual way so harshly bright, making even the shadows pale, making even the shadows seek shelter; that day, the sun was in its usual place, up above and in the middle of the sky, but Mr. Potter didn't note this, so accustomed was he to this, the sun was in its usual place, up above and in the middle of the sky; if the sun had not been in its usual place, that would have made a great big change in Mr. Potter's day, it would have meant rain, however briefly such a thing, rain, might fall, but it would have changed Mr. Potter's day, so used was he to the sun was in its usual place, up above and in the middle of the sky."

Now here is the first sentence of a chapter that begins on page 117:

"And on that day, the sun was in its usual place, up above and in the middle of the sky, and it shone in its usual way so harshly bright, making even the shadows pale, making even the shadows seek shelter; that day, the sun was in its usual place, up above and in the middle of the sky, but Mr. Potter didn't note this, so accustomed was he to this, the sun was in its usual place, up above and in the middle of the sky."

Note the inclusion of the word "on" in the first phrase. Just enough of a change to alter the rhythm.  

The more I read on he more convinced I became that it is intended that this story be read aloud (or more realistically imagined to be read aloud) and the repeated themes are like repeated themes in a symphony,  each variation, no matter how slight, enhancing the overall impact.  Mr. Potter's life then is to be felt more than understood, much in the way that a symphony's impact on a listener is more than one would get from reading the sheet music.

On the other hand, this could be nothing more than a 50 page book expanded by repetition.

I can't decide.