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BOOKS
dying to better themselves The Pain Tree
Fiction
9781770864344
5.5 x 8.5, 320 pages
Publisher: Cormorant Books
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Olive Senior's new collection of stories, The Pain Tree, is wide-ranging in scope, time period, theme, locale, and voice. There is - along with her characteristic "gossipy voice" - reverence, wit and wisdom, satire, humour, and even farce. The stories range over at most a hundred years, from around the time of the second world war to the present. Like her earlier stories, Jamaica is the setting but the range of characters presented are universally recognisable as people in crisis or on the cusp of transformation.

While most of the stories operate within a realist mode, Senior also exploits traditional motifs. Collected here are revenge stories ("The Goodness of my Heart"), a bargain with the Devil ("Boxed-in"), a Cinderella story ("The Country Cousin"), a magical realist interpretation of African spiritual beliefs ("Flying") and a narrator's belated acceptance of the healing power of traditional beliefs ("The Pain Tree"). "Coal" is a realist story set in the war years and depression that followed as folks try to find a new place in the world. Senior's trademark children awakening to self-awareness and to the hypocrisy of adults are here too, from the heartbreaking "Moonlight" and "Silent" to the girls in "Lollipop" and "A Father Like That" who learn to confront loneliness and vulnerability with attitude.