THE NEW MOON'S ARMS by Nalo Hopkinson (Warner), 323 pages, $29.99 cloth. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Sometimes the things you find aren't what you're looking for at all.
This is certainly true for Nalo Hopkinson's narrator, Calamity, an embittered, 53-year-old Caribbean woman whose menopausal hot flashes are accompanied by the materialization of objects from her past.
When she became pregnant at 15, Calamity left home; she returns decades later to tie up the loose ends after her father's death, entering a world fraught with memories of rejection and betrayal. As her childhood things pile up around her, she has to contend with the girl she once was and the woman she's become.
Fusing the politics of foreign aid and debt with elements of magic realism, Hopkinson locates Calamity in a nation undergoing its own reconciliation with the past. Calamity gets a second chance at motherhood when she rescues a merchild washed up on the shore and, through him, discovers an entrance into the island's ancestral history.
The narrative shifts between first and third person, giving the story a disjointed feeling that reflects Calamity's own discomfort with her aging body. The interweaving of Caribbean mythology with secondary storylines seems slightly clumsy at first, but by the end of the book gently resolves itself.
Calamity's strengths - her sharp tongue and self-confidence - are often undercut by her need to seek legitimacy through the men in her life. From her daughter's father to a man she meets on the beach, Calamity repeatedly desires gay men who are unable to fulfill her needs. Her outward hostility to them makes it hard to love her at first, but in the end these flaws and contradictions make Calamity fully human.
In these ways, Hopkinson cleverly delivers a fantastical coming of middle-age story.
Hopkinson reads at the Runnymede Public Library Wednesday (May 30) and June 12 at the Pape/Danforth Public Library (701 Pape, 416-393-7727).