BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

The Islands by Dionne Irving [in Shelf Awareness]

Nine of the 10 stories in The Islands, the deeply satisfying first collection of short fiction from University of Notre Dame professor Dionne Irving (Quint), center women who share a Jamaican background. The plurality inherent in the title cleverly points to Jamaica but also England and, likewise, the insulated enclaves that diasporic communities create in faraway places.

Younger Black women reevaluate their interracial (power) relationships with older men in four stories: “All-Inclusive,” about a model involved with a married white poet; “The Cape,” in which a former student married to her professor struggles with his recovery after an (easily avoidable, ahem!) accident; “An American Idea of Fun,” about an Ohio teen manipulated by the father of family friends who invite her for a summer in France; and “The Gifts,” in which a Jamaican teen finds work as a nanny with a posh London family and leaves pregnant.

Prickly mother-daughter relationships are exposed in “Some People,” about a would-be screenwriter asked to participate in International Day at her daughter’s school, and “Waking Life,” about a travel journalist planning to meet her estranged mother. In “Canal,” a Toronto woman returns to Panama to settle the affairs of a woman she had to call “abuelita” as a child. In “Weaving,” the one story without a female protagonist, a boxer past his prime steals a piglet for his daughter – but arrives too late on her birthday.

Irving writes with an easy openness, her sentences seemingly straightforward, in stories with much that can be inferred between the lines: inequity, imbalance, erasure. She has a remarkable talent for understated, multilayered density that reveals stifling responsibilities, desperate dreams, and fluttering hopes.

Discover: Diasporic Black women populate nine of the 10 stories with Jamaican roots in this outstanding collection.

Review“Fiction,” Shelf Awareness, January 6, 2023

Readers: Adult

Published: 2022


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