cover image My Brother

My Brother

Jamaica Kincaid. Farrar Straus Giroux, $19 (197pp) ISBN 978-0-374-21681-8

""I became a writer out of desperation, so when I first heard my brother was dying I was familiar with the act of saving myself: I would write about him."" The result of Kincaid's self-preserving urge is a memoir that has less to do with her AIDS-afflicted, Rastafarian brother (whom she knew only slightly as an adult) than with recent visits to her native Antigua during which she helped her mother nurse him. It will surprise none of Kincaid's devotees that the memoir's dominant tone is measured rage, an attitude toward her family so passionate that it can make you wince. It's still shocking to read a middle-aged woman claim that she and her mother hate each other. And yet Kincaid is one of our pre-eminent prose stylists. Her exasperations, furies and regrets fall out with all the naturalness of spoken observations on the weather (""for young people are always beautiful until they are not, until they just are not"") and sound just as believable. Although this memoir contains very little public grieving of the balled-handkerchief sort (Kincaid reserves that for her father-in-law and former editor at the New Yorker, the recently deceased William Shawn), it is all the more poignant for its austerity--and if it has ""saved"" Kincaid, it has also preserved her troubling, troubled family more credibly than perhaps any gentler book could have done. (Oct.)