According to the Greeks there are four types of love: Storge, Philia, Eros, and Agape, but the Greeks forgot to mention one more type and that is the love between a mother and daughter. It is an enduring love that withstands the initial mutual adoration, the misguided criticisms and accusations until the final arrival at respect. This is the type of love explored in Jamaica Kincaid’s semi-autobiographical novella, Lucy.
Lucy is a girl who, at nineteen, has had enough of her family, community, and west indian island. So she packs her bags and leaves to work as an au pair for a couple in New York while she studies to become a nurse—at least that what she leaves her mother to believe. In the span of 365 days Lucy’s personality and life direction does a complete 360 as she abandons her past in hopes of defining her own future. We arrive at her life in the middle of her existential crisis/transformation and Kincaid leads us on an emotional journey to discover the root of Lucy’s discomfort and incessant refusal to communicate with her past.
Kincaid delivers a stellar novella whose character and language is so captivating it will not allow you to put it down—I finished it in one sitting. In 165 pages the Antiguan author offers us one of the most idiosyncratic, cleverly angsty, fiercely independent female characters in Literature history. Lucy is a woman for whom convention and tradition holds no place, at least that’s what she is fighting so hard to convince herself to believe. She is in a constant battle with authentic reality and illusion and it is through this conflict that Kincaid delves into the most complex relationship of all—a mother and daughter. Her emotionally intense illustration of this relationship is so nuanced yet relatable you will remember the very moment at which the illusion of who you thought your mother was and the reality of who she is clashes so fiercely that you begin to unravel your own identity. And it is through that painful and confusing process that Lucy sets out on leaving us to root for her, to cry with her, to side-eye her, but most of all, to relate to her. She is one of the most endearing characters I have ever come across.
This sort of personal (re)development set against the backdrop of a white upper class family allows room for Kincaid’s stunning critiques of classicism, colonialism, gender roles, and white feminism. Her language is blunt, but beautiful. She weaves the straight-forward with the figurative in a way that will force you to to re-read sections not for clarity, but for adoration.
We have all had that moment where we despise where we’re from; the people, ideas, and culture is so confining that we believe if we just escape its borders we will find happiness. But it isn’t until we cross into new territory that we learn:
“Traveling is a fool’s paradise. Our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
No piece of work captures that more brilliantly than Kincaid’s Lucy.