My Grandmother's Erotic Folktales

Robert Antoni, Author Grove/Atlantic $24 (224p) ISBN 978-0-8021-1687-1
Antoni offers up an incongruous blend of flavors in this lively collection of five short stories set in a boarding house for American soldiers near the seaside town of Corpus Cristi. The feisty old woman narrator, reminiscing to her grandson, Johnny, about her days as proprietress, recalls feeding her ravenous charges everything from a five-foot armadillo to a dozen buckets of fried chicken. The result is a stew of traditional Caribbean folktales and riffs on American pop culture, sometimes as tantalizing as the sweet, succulent mangoes an orphan girl devours in one of the book's cleverest stories, ""How Crab-O Lost His Head"" but sometimes as hard to digest as a stomach full of overripe fruit. Antoni's first novel, Divina Trace, won the Commonwealth Prize and revealed the author's penchant for writing in dialect, a device he employs here to both charming and exhausting effect. His grandmother peppers her monologue with Caribbean exclamations and colorful turns of phrase (""But this story was smelling blancyfoot to me yes""); her folktales are both erotic and scatological, a bluer version of Kipling's Just So Stories. They are contained within an elaborate narrative frame dramatizing the woman's struggle to run a ""proper"" boarding house during WWII while fending off a parade of shysters, corrupt policemen and prostitutes looking for American clients. Colonel Sanders tries to convince her to open a pizza restaurant; an impostor king claims to have discovered a trove of gold bricks on her land. While sometimes duped by snake-oil salesmen, Johnny's grandmother always manages to come out on top and get the last word. This is a frequently riotous read, though best taken in small doses. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 04/01/2001
Release date: 04/01/2001
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 224 pages - 978-0-8021-3900-9
Hardcover - 201 pages - 978-0-571-20010-8
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