CARNIVAL BY ROBERT ANTONI
A darkly suggestive transposition of Fiesta, Hemingway’s book about unhappy moneyed American expats in France and Pamplona, Carnival begins on the tennis courts and in the bars and eateries of New York’s SoHo. William, an aspiring novelist, is our narrator. He’s reunited with two childhood friends: his first love, Rachel, a flighty socialite over from Paris with her fourth fiancé, and Laurence, a handsome, Oxford-educated, successful playwright visiting from London. They are jetsetting, hedonistic, bright young things, and their talk is witty and literary.
Their joint trip to Trinidad Carnival is a return home. All three are West Indian: William is white, Laurence black and Rachel French-Creole. As they succumb to the intemperance and inversions that traditionally come with carnival, the identities that they’ve created for themselves become fragile, their sexuality becomes more fluid, their racial identity problematic. Aspects of the upbringing they’d suppressed, along with a traumatic secret that William and Rachel share, resurface. Their group dynamic becomes unstable, and they are reckless and cruel. After, to recover and perhaps to try and find that sense of belonging they’ve never had, they go with the carnival king to his isolated Rasta settlement in the rainforest. Trauma and violence follow them here too.
Whether in Manhattan, the Caribbean or the jungle, Carnival is an appropriately heady and wild novel, in which the air is suffused with dope smoke, calypso drumming and menace. But it’s allusive and allegorical, and there’s a disconcerting, underlying sense of unreality to it all.  |  BOOKLIST »