Bivouac begins with Ferron Morgan driving his father’s body in the back seat of a car to funeral home, his stomach is upset by anxiety, some of it due to grief and some to a strange white Toyota following him. The narrative of the story continues to follow Ferron for some time, while he haphazardly explores why his father died and even more haphazardly pursues relationships with three women. There are interstitial excerpts from his radical father’s writing that seem to be from his last days.
One explanation for his father’s death is medical malpractice, a treatment error at the ER after his fall. Another is murder, advanced by his brother and his father’s good friend Feti. The third explanation is suicide, an idea floated by none other than his father and his mother who says his father has been dead for three years–the living death of irrelevance. In a way, it seems that the women, Delores, Mitzie, and Theresa, could be seen as representative of these three options. Delores is so practical she could be the malpractice. Theresa could be the romanticized conspiracy of murder and betrayal. Mitzie could be the choice of ending it all.
But then I wonder if the women represent the choices Jamaica must make, not just Ferron. Delores is the capitalist, rightist turn that led to his father’s despair. The rape that precedes the novel would be very much a reflection of the role of choosing American capitalism and the economic rape that follows. Theresa could represent the hope of African Internationalism with her link to Feti, the ambassador. Mitzie could the true Jamaican choice, the choice of reggae and liberation, making their own way free of the judgment and influence of the capitalist West or the African revolutionaries.
The reason I look for meaning in Ferron’s three relationships beyond the obvious is Bivouac has that kind of rich and luxurious writing that makes you believe there is a purpose to every element of the story. There are three women, three explanations of his father’s death, and three Jamaicas. This seems purposeful.
The book ends with a hallucinatory final chapter with Ferron hearing the beat of Burning Spear, the reggae artist and Africa Internationalist, while visiting his ancestral home and ancestors. It’s more like a play than a narrative, or perhaps a song with pieces sung by different characters, even a bus conductor. It’s wild and poetic and a fitting way to conclude a story that is rich in questions and sparing with answers.
Bivouac will be released on April 2nd. I received an ARC from the publisher through LibraryThing.
- Bivouac at Akashic Books
- Kwame Dawes author site
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