cover image As Flies to Whatless Boys

As Flies to Whatless Boys

Robert Antoni. Akashic, $24.95 (320p) ISBN 978-1-61775-155-4

Trinidad is the sultry backdrop for an intricately imagined historical novel from Antoni (Carnival) about voyages of discovery undertaken generations apart. In 1881, William Tucker, soon to return to London, tells his son the story of why their family left England in 1845. William’s father had fallen in with the bombastic German inventor J.A. Etzler, who claimed his Satellite machine could ”save the labouring-masses” and revolutionize agriculture—that is, if he could test it at a new-world colony. Only after sailing to Trinidad aboard the Rosalind did Etzler’s colonists discover the full extent of his “boldface bamboozlement.” Still, the transatlantic pilgrimage nurtured William’s first love, with mute, beautiful Marguerite. The mystery of what happened to Etzler’s colony and to Marguerite incites the present-tense storyline, consisting of e-mails Antoni receives from Trinidad archivist Miss Ramsol, whom he “subjuices” (her word) while researching his Tucker ancestry during a visit. Her bawdily funny, patois-heavy missives showcase Antoni’s superlative ear for the intricacies of language, Caribbean rhythms in particular. And William’s account of young love attests to Antoni’s fluency in the poetry of nostalgia. In words as vibrant as the personalities he creates, Antoni deftly captures unconquered territories and the risks we’re willing to take exploring them. Agent: Kim Witherspoon, Inkwell Management. (Sept.)