cover image Ready to Burst

Ready to Burst

Frankétienne, trans. from the French by Kaiama L. Glover. Archipelago (Random, dist.), $18 trade paper (172p) ISBN 978-1-935744-78-8

In his newly translated novel, Frankétienne, “the Father of Haitian Letters,” exuberantly declares his “Spiralist” aesthetic: “Dialect of hurricanes. Patois of rains. Language of storms. I speak the unfolding of life in a spiral.” Autobiographical elements mingle with surrealist dreamscapes, theatrical dialogue “situated right at the limits of poetry,” and fragmented, “undulatory” sentences capture the “voice of the Third World torn apart.” Spiralism has artistic and politically revolutionary aims: to jolt literature and to inveigh against the domestic tyranny and foreign powers strangling Haiti. Set during the brutal dictatorship of François Duvalier, the story loosely follows the misadventures and perambulations of a romantic, alienated young man named Raynand. He is taken in by Paulin, a writer and firebrand who is working on a novel that will put Spiralism’s revolutionary methods into practice. Paulin tasks Raynand, a fitting test of his young charge’s aesthetic and political education. As with some avant-garde works that explicitly announce their goals, the high-flown claims here sometimes fail to materialize. The novel crosses fine line between theatrical and stilted dialogue, the prose is prone to overheating, and the accumulation of rapid-fire sentence fragments produces its own longueurs. Nonetheless, Frankétienne’s nightmarish landscapes and scenes from the “quotidian theater of island violence” are ably written. (Oct.)