If I had the Wings by Helen Klonaris reviewed by Glenville Ashby for Jamaica’s Gleaner.
Helen Klonaris’ If I had the Wings captures the harrowing, lugubrious side of existence. Written against the backdrop of Bahamian culture, Klonaris delivers an iconoclastic monument, a psychoanalytic ‘anthem’ that lays bare the far reaches of the mind. This is depth psychology sans scholastic rigour; a riveting compilation that brims with human sexuality and gender identity. Every tale is a chilling, tension-drenched thriller.
Psychosis, hysteria, fear, and anxiety creep upon Klonaris’s characters ever so stealthily. Inner and outer worlds are in lockstep. Subconscious complexes emerge.
‘Flies’, the opening salvo, is a haunting, psychopathological narrative. It is an incisive exploration into religious obsession and compulsive acts of decontamination, a strain of obsessive-compulsive disorder. It is a reminder, no less, of how a single event in one’s formative years can damn the future.
In her quixotic orisons, Majorie St George yearns for purity. But she’s about to lose a battle with the evil an army of flies, bent on desecrating, destroying her, literally.
‘Flies’ is starkly graphic, disturbing, and revolting. The rotting pungency caused by flies that invade her dwelling is also gnawing away at her flesh.
As the drama unfolds, her mental capacity deteriorates. Klonaris sustains the assault. “She followed the smell of herself and the prickling of feet across her skin till she did not know what was an ear and what was a belly or fingers or toes. [And] as the flies sucked and rubbed, Majorie St George became a quiver of air … of rotting lilies hovering thickly over the soiled mattress …”
In the eponymous, ‘If I had wings,’ the storm that desolates the sleepy town is not unlike the raging hatred that burns inside Anna. With her dog Lucky, she braves the storm, intrepid, daring, a kindred spirit with the howling winds that batter all in its path. She escapes from the suffocating, nauseating aura of her father and her ubiquitous mother. Escape, she must; and so, too, the birds in the always-locked room. In a surreal moment, she manumits the captives. “In a great rush, herons, egrets and crows, doves and pigeons and tiny woodstars sweep silently past me out into the darkness and the rain, into the salt air of the night.”
‘Ghosts Children’ is a phantasmagoric drama that conjures the unseen world, a world that disquiets and wreaks havoc on a young girl and her mother. It is a tale of mediumship, heightened perceptivity, and hysteria. And throughout, there is a driving sexual undercurrent that shatters traditions and cultural expectations.
In ‘Cowboy’ we experience life’s wretchedness. Migrants live in fear of deportation, vilified and humiliated because of their nationality and race. And all white tourists exceed all the limits of civility. A precocious well-to-do girl fails to prevent the deportation of her friend and family handyman despite giving her savings to callous, praetorian officers. It is a hierarchical society with racial and social fault lines. The downtrodden remain downtrodden.
UNSETTLES THE SPIRIT
‘Cowboy’ probes the conscience. It unsettles the spirit, and when the last word is read, we pause and reflect on the steely, coldness of man.
In ‘Pick Up Girl’, adultery, intolerance, and homophobia take centre stage. Kaya, a mere 16-year-old, struggles with her sexual feelings. Her dream of laying waste to a bird in flight represents rebirth. It augurs a new beginning, a new identity. Lidless and reflective, she realises that she can no longer slavishly follow her father, a man who is adulterous and abusive. She must break that yolk.
‘Crack in the Wall’ simmer, with violence and self-hatred. It’s a tale of the many tortured lives that exist in the shadows. And therein we are served with one piece of wondrous imagery that depicts the travails of closeted sexuality. “It’s not that hard once you let go and jump,” Trevor states, referring to his friend’s hesitation to dive into the blue hole. “Letting go,” he adds, “is the hard part.”
In ‘Weeds,’ the protagonists are weighed down by sexual and gender conflicts.
They manage, though, to liberate themselves in an explosively daring display of passive resistance against the church, an institution they hold responsible for anti-gay rhetoric and violence. “Every time you tell us ‘that’s not how God made you,’ you are giving guys … permission to turn us into monsters” is indelibly etched in memory.
In this wrenching and aesthetically dark drama, souls wander through the stench of life. For sure, Providence has dealt an awful hand to many a gentle soul. Klonaris’s characters relentlessly search for meaning, for acceptance. Fortunately, the seething impulse of nature is ever-present, pushing back against the suffocating hold of tradition.
If I had the Wings is compelling. A wondrous triumph.
And yes, Klonaris has just put every writer on notice.
If I had the Wings by Helen Klonaris, 2017
Peepal Tree, UK
Available at Amazon