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Madam Fate (15)
By Marcia Douglas

Published by Soho in 2003

From Publishers Weekly

Lilting Jamaican dialect, bits of poetic singsong and stories from creation mythology permeate the narrative of Douglas's ambitious first novel, which fluidly combines the stories of several Jamaican women. The initial narrator, Bella, a shapeshifter, establishes the tone: "In the beginning there was laughter, but to hear a woman's laughter, one must first hear her sorrow." Successively in the first person, the voices of others emerge: "lopside" (malformed) Ida, born in 1920, who recounts the tortuous life's journey that led to her incarceration in a mental hospital; nine-year-old Gracie, whose family must leave her behind in Jamaica when they finally get visas to "'Merica"; Gracie's "mamsie," Muriel, who scrapes a hard living as a cleaning woman in New York; Claudia, who volunteers at Ida's hospital in order to find her mother, Lucy, who abandoned her as a baby; and Mrs. Cummings, an aged neighbor of Gracie's who sits on the verandah of her house, waiting to die. Douglas skillfully establishes the tenuous connections among these characters (e.g., Gracie waves at Ida through the gates of the asylum), who all share a spiritual connection with the names of flowers (Ida's hospital is the Periwinkle Garden; Madam Fate is the name of the deadly bush that Gracie promising to bring Mrs. Cummings). While she wraps up the small mysteries in satisfying fashion (Who is Claudia's mother? What was Muriel's schoolmate Andrea's previous identity?), Douglas tires the reader in shifting back and forth between so many unidentified voices. There are compelling and poignant moments of storytelling?most notably, Muriel's angry, well-defined monologue addressed to Gracie?that are lost amid the profusion of characters relating the circumstances of their lives. 
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