Essential Art

Louise Marburg at The Hudson Review:

I mean it as a compliment when I say many of the stories in The Islands are disturbing. Shame and alienation are the baggage Irving’s characters carry. Some are entitled, living the American dream, while others scrape by or are haunted by loss. “All-Inclusive” is a gorgeously dark story. In an ironic switch, Anaya, a Los Angeles model-slash-waitress and the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, meets a white man known as The Poet who is from Jamaica. Anaya becomes The Poet’s mistress, and they travel the world together. He is rich, she is poor; he is married, she is not. She revels in being able to “demand drinks, not deliver them,” and “To call for a bed to be turned down.” Anaya hasn’t visited Jamaica since she was a child, and her memories of the place are unpleasant. When she and The Poet take a trip to an all-inclusive resort on the island, Anaya wonders, had she been born and raised in Jamaica, if she would be doing the bidding of thoughtless white tourists, turning down their beds at night. She is ashamed and humbled by being waited on by people like herself and her family, many of whom still live on the island; that she is being willingly used by a white man who disgusts her is a truth she can’t admit to herself until he flat-out tells her. There are no happy endings in The Islands, and redemption is just out of reach. Its characters walk a tightrope between past and present realities.

more here.