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At the Bottom of the River

3.82 of 5 stars 3.82  ·  rating details  ·  597 ratings  ·  53 reviews
Jamaica Kincaid's inspired, lyrical short stories

Reading Jamaica Kincaid is to plunge, gently, into another way of seeing both the physical world and its elusive inhabitants. Her voice is, by turns, naively whimsical and biblical in its assurance, and it speaks of what is partially remembered partly divined. The memories often concern a childhood in the Caribbean--family,
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Paperback, 96 pages
Published October 15th 2000 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 1983)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,362)
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Jessica
I'm sure there are some merits of this book, but I'm too busy to search for them, even though this book is 88 pages of triple-spaced prose. This is my fourth Jamaica Kincaid book (her first) and I think I can officially put myself in the "I'm not a fan" category.
It's amazing that this book was received as well as it was. This is the type of book that people in the rest of the US think New Yorkers read and write, the type of book people use as an example of why they don't read books, they type o
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Debbie
As I listened to Edwidge Dandicat read Wingless , I was not sure what to think. It's definitely beautiful. It sounds like a abstract poem about a girl, her youth and some strong feelings she has at a young age towards herself, women and her mother especially. I did enjoy listening to this work but feel I may comprehend it's depth more by reading the written version. I'll quote a few words that Ms. Dandicat gave in regards to this piece.
Edwidge Dandicat on Wingless: "It's poetry bleeding into p
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Claire McAlpine
It was great to finally read Girl, the story that is like a thread through all of Kincaid's writing and one she continues to talk about today.

I enjoyed all the stories, though prefer he style in the long form, where we have time to settle into it, it requires more concentration in the short form and sometimes rereading to get into the flow.
Annie
More lyrical vignettes of island life than short stories, but quite interesting and evocative. Would probably be best appreciated read aloud.
Michalle Gould
This is a tough one, right between four and five stars. I loved the experience of reading the stories but I have a feeling I will have a hard time remembering them and that keeps me from giving the book the full five stars. But I plan to return to it and re-read again a year or two from now and i wouldn't be surprised if I changed my mind. I think this may be a lazy summer afternoon sort of book so I'm not sure the short winter day was the right time to fully appreciate it. I definitely recommen ...more
Kathryn
Sort of an impressionist painting of a novel.

There are feels, obvious images, but in a way distorted, or sloppy, unclear.

Lots of lovely poetics, but I've read other novels that work this way that seemed to work better, somehow.
Demisty Bellinger
Like listening to Debussy or looking at a Monet painting: very imagistic, very impressionistic. At first, I was annoyed with the repetition, but that lasted only briefly. Kincaid's prose is more poetry than story and, at times, absolutely stunning.

Her oft anthologized "Girl" is the first story in this collection. Although "Girl" is wonderful, I wouldn't say it was the best. I think my least favorite was the title piece.
Leif
Before Kincaid's turn toward a more familiar realism this, her first collection of short stories, reflects a modernist out of time, a woman fighting through language's watery deeps to reach something impossible: the music of paradise, the silent sounds of pure happiness. Highly recommended for readers of Beckett, Woolf, or diasporic Caribbean literature more generally.
Liz Camfiord
I am a big fan of Jamaica Kincaid. This was the first book of hers I read. It's poetic, nuanced, wise and lush with surprising language. My impressions and some of the lines ("My fears, what large cows!") have stayed with me 'lo these 25 years later.
Frankie
“All manner of feelings are locked up within my human breast and all manner of events summon them out.” (p47) I read about Kincaid in an article on the legacy of Virginia Woolf. When I began reading, however, I felt uncomfortable with the writing style. It feels somehow abstract while being the opposite of abstract at the same time. It does remind one of Woolf’s The Waves, specifically the lyrical portions. She has a peculiar way of combining tribal visuals with English sentiments. Not every sto ...more
Valerie Valentine
Not my first time in these pages and won't be the last. The poetic moments confuse then cause me wonder in perfect phrasing. It's a slim volume but it takes time to work through. I will be reading A Small Place next.
Beth
Yum. I should have known that this would be amazing. I loved everything else of hers, why did I put this one off? So that I would have an artsy treat to read in the park one sunny day!
Charlotte
Amazing and beautiful poetic prose. Kincaid creates lyrical and rhythmic depictions of nature, relationships, self discovery and the mystery of death. Fantastic read.
Kyle
Flips the script on the definition of what is fiction and what is a short story. Unlike any collection before or after it.
Kate
My advice for this book is, read the stories more than once. Seriously, do it.
Anesa
It's my understanding that the author, J. Kincaid, wrote this book to describe, or perhaps to cope with, a painful estrangement from her once-beloved mother. I would call the book a prose poem, which is not my favorite genre. The relationship seems to be evoked through imagery, much of it fantastical, rather than through events or descriptions of emotion. If there is a plot, it eludes me.

"A hummingbird has nested in my stomach…my mother and I live in a bower made from flowers whose petals are im
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Lydell
A short, but difficult-to-digest read.
Briana
Kincaid's At the Bottom of the River reads less like a series of short stories and more as a series of prose poems. None of the stories are self-contained and plot-driven but are interwoven with rich imagery and a liberal usage of metaphor. Several of the stories are concerned with the relationship between mother and daughter and a young woman's coming of age in the Caribbean.

The summary on the back cover of the book was rather misleading as Kincaid never addresses life in the Caribbean in a lu
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Selena
I loved a lot of things about this book. The first two stories especially are brilliant surprising strange lyric wonderful. I love the way a consciousness and and story unfolds in a non-traditional, without the awkwardness of exposition or introduction. Some of the later stories miss that specificity of moment and scene that drives the first two pieces, and become overly abstract in my opinion, moving in a weird dream-like way that, like many re-telling of dreams, seems to make sense only to the ...more
Tara
Something that needs to be read more than once. Something that should be read aloud by someone who can perform.

My favorite piece is "The Letter From Home," which is beautiful. She starts with chores and moves on to life, happening. "I shed my skin; lips have trembled, tears have flowed, cheeks have puffed, stomachs have twisted with pain... the hyacinths look as if they will bloom -- I know their fragrance will be overpowering; the earth spins on its axis, the axis is imaginary..."

In "Blackness"
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Alison
I'm really disappointed, I loved Annie John so much but this was all weird and ethereal and I couldn't follow it. Maybe I just wasn't in the right mood? I did like "Girl" and "My Mother". Those two were weird and anxious and I loved them. But the rest of the book I just kind of glided through and didn't quite feel like I was actually absorbing anything.
Uzay
These stories read like poetry. The visual imagery is stunning and helps to magnify her island life. I have to admit that there were some stories that were confusing; I found myself re-reading some parts. Overall, a remarkable collection of stories dealing with female relationships, especially mother/daughter ones.
Pam Yurasek
If nothing else , read the first story "Girl". Advice from a weary mother- the voice, the place, the age, the damage.....all neatly portrayed in 2nd person in less than 3pages.
Daria Dykes
A beautiful series of impressionist prose poems addressing the consequence of colonialism, gender roles, and achieving personhood. Fierce, graceful, and affecting.
David Foresi
Jamaica Kincaid e' una scoperta incredibile. Uno di quei libri che sai quando lo apri ma non quando riesci a chiuderlo, probabilmente solo alla fine o quando arriva la tua fermata. Una poesia in prosa che racconta di ombre e luci, alterna il dramma alla serenita'. Sono parole quelle di Jamaica Kincaid che scavano ed entrano dentro una dopo l'altra. Una trama di racconti e frammenti di vita che s'intrecciano tra loro senza un'apparente unicita' ma che in fondo appartengono tutti alla stessa stori ...more
elissa
fluidity and context. stream of consciousness but... not. kincaid's writing tosses in the stream of the surroundings, of other characters. if i have to hear one more person in this class say, "but if that's what she means, why doesn't she just say it that way," i'll stop being a snob and start being a bully. but, who can be that judgmental when even the critics agree that, like it or not, kincaid's writing is defying. it's fucking beautiful.
Lanea
This is an exquisite little book of short stories, most of which revolve around mother-daughter relationships. Many in the collection were originally published in the New Yorker, and many are reportedly auto-biographical. Most importantly, the stories dance along the line between prose and poetry from the first page, and Kincaid's language is gorgeous and evocative and powerful. I don't think one reading suffices, at least not for me.
Deborah
First semester of my senior year at Bard, I took this great class with my advisor, Brad Morrow, called Narrative Strategies. We read all these great contemporary books with wildly varied and experimental narrative techniques, and instead of writing papers, we wrote our own fiction, into which we had to try to experiement with the techniques of the authors we were reading. I wish all lit classes were like that!
John
Terrible. My winning streak of good books is over. I read a few of Jamaica Kincaid's essays at graduate school, which were good. Perhaps I just chose the wrong novel because there was nothing redeeming about it. Horrible style and use of repetition... I understand its purpose but the execution fails. Waste of time. Nothing memorable about it all. Found myself indifferent and also skimming parts.
Todd Grimson
This is a book of stories so lyrical as to at times seem surrealistic, sometimes told in the not-very-naive voice of a child. Kincaid has certain material -- her family life on the island of Antigua -- which she repeats in various manners book to book. Here it is presented at its most dreamlike, a brief, beautiful volume unlike anything else I've ever read.
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Jamaica Kincaid is a novelist, gardener, and former reporter for The New Yorker Magazine. She is a Professor of Literature at Claremont-McKenna College.
More about Jamaica Kincaid...
A Small Place Annie John Lucy The Autobiography of My Mother My Brother

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“this is how you smile to someone you don't like too much; this is how you smile to someone you don't like at all; this is how you smile to someone you like completely; this is how you set a table for tea; this is how you set a table for dinner; this is how you set a table for dinner with an important guest; this is how you set a table for lunch; this is how you set a table for breakfast; this is how to behave in the presence of men who don't know you very well, and this way they won't recognize immediately the slut I have warned you against becoming;” 18 likes
“Looking at the horizon again, I saw a lone figure coming toward me, but I wasn't frightened because I was sure it was my mother. As I got closer to the figure, I could see that it wasn't my mother, but still I wasn't frightened because I could see that it was a woman.” 5 likes
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