cover image Unlike Normal Women

Unlike Normal Women

Rudolf Steiner, Vernella Fuller. Women's Press (UK), $14.99 (330pp) ISBN 978-0-7043-4431-0

Even though Jamaica in the early 1960s was a newly independent nation, the old assumptions of colonialism lingered. Here, despite a change of government, the land-owning Clearys still hold sway, their men using country women as concubines. But in Fuller's story, there are at least a handful who are ""unlike normal women"": Aunt Vie, the village matriarch who is recovering from a disabling stroke; Azora, the community healer feared as an ""obeahwoman,"" or sorceress, who becomes Vie's friend after years of estrangement; and Miss Dee, an often haughty young dressmaker who resists the seductions of a Cleary scion and is disowned by her Aunt Jane. Jane, the novel's most tragic character, whose much-desired pregnancy by an elder Cleary is aborted through his treachery, is both proud and intensely pitiable: ""When the doctor confirmed that she had lost the baby and put her in his taxi... her screams drowned the noise of the engine."" Despite the setting, the rhetoric of liberation politics rarely intrudes. Instead, Fuller captures the rhythm of everyday life in Top Mountain, a rural area ""high on one of the numerous hills of St. Catherine,"" where the author was born. Fuller, who was praised for her debut novel, Going Back Home, offers a good story that is seriously undermined by writing that is clumsy at best. (""The culminated pain, the consequence of the wounding words thrown at her over the years; even before she came to live in Top Mountain, she had been branded a failed woman, a shell masquerading as a woman; brought a new desperation and anger she had thought was abating."") (Jan.)