What do you think of when you think of contemporary Jamaica? I bet it’s not what Gillian Royes makes you think about in her Shad series. Shadrack Myers is a Jamaican bar tender far off the beaten tourist track in the small town of Largo Bay. Largo’s one hotel was destroyed in a hurricane and now the only industry left is fishing or scamming and minding one another’s business. Shad is especially good at that last one. So good that he sort-of becomes Largo’s unofficial sheriff. The expats, immigrants, tourists and locals that populate the series make each book culturally complex and the characters nuanced. No one is quite a stereotype but everyone gives you little clues about how the stereotypes were generated.
Where it takes you:
The Jamaica of Gillian Royes is rich and complex. It’s not a spring break beach fantasy. It’s not a political awareness tale. It’s just delightful characters in realistic places you come to care about and come to understand. The small-town dynamics of Largo will ring true to anyone from any small town. People help one another and hurt one another as their character interacts with their circumstance.
What Wander-Readers will love:
Reading the Shad Myers series gives you a very real sense of contemporary Jamaica, not just the Jamaica the board of tourism sells. Still it is never biter or shocking. There is a sense of optimistic realism as you are introduced to people and situations that make their own sense in the context of their story. Shad is a gem. His role as bartender has taught him a lot about human nature and allows him to socialize across social barriers. Shad has friends everywhere.
Trust me, you want to read these while you still have some summer. The Goat Woman of Largo Bay introduces you to Shad, his boss, a mysterious hermit-woman and the little town of Largo. Shad’s resourcefulness proves the only thing to keep his town safe and peaceful. In The Man Who Turned Both Cheeks, Shad really shows his chops as a detective and his bravery as a man. Shad must save the fine people of Largo from their own fears and prejudices, as well as others who would exploit them. Royes’ newest book, The Sea Grape Tree, makes the stakes personal for Shad. As class and romance complicate a business deal, Shad finds it difficult to feel at home in his own community among his own friends.
My first visit to Jamaica, I was young, naive and a total tourist. I was expecting it to be all steel drums and rum punch and was shocked to find myself in the middle of a documentary on extreme poverty. Sure, the tourist area was all beach and pirate games but one wrong turn and you could find yourself on the set of a Sally Struthers commercial. I knew Jamaica was a poor country, but I had visions of a more romantic poverty: smiling fishermen returning to picturesque grass huts, women in bright clothes picking coffee beans, Harry Belafonte loading bunches of bananas. (Did I mention I was young and stupid?) My most vivid memory from that trip was seeing what I thought was my friend feeding seagulls on the pier. As I walked up to her I realized she wasn’t tossing bread. She was throwing coins over the rail as unbelievably tiny children jumped to catch them in the air on the way down… down… down… until SPLASH! A boy called to me, “Miss! miss! throw something for me!” I couldn’t even look him in the eye.
My second visit to Jamaica I was more prepared. I immersed myself in the history and culture instead of just good-timing it, plantation tours, slave uprisings, the spirit and politics of reggae. That trip was amazing! I got to know a few of the people as human beings. Not as objects of pity. I had grown up a little bit, but having made my peace with the country, I felt no call to return again. Until I read the Shad series.
I still think Jamaicans are insane drivers. I still hate dealing with the touts. And no, I do NOT want my hair braided! But in spite of all that. I maybe I do love Jamaica after all.
Read ~ Write ~ Wander
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