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See Now Then

2.88  ·  Rating details ·  1,013 ratings  ·  255 reviews
A beautifully wrought new novel about marriage and family from the acclaimed author of Mr. Potter

In See Now Then, the brilliant and evocative new novel from Jamaica Kincaid—her first in ten years—a marriage is revealed in all its joys and agonies. This piercing examination of the manifold ways in which the passing of time operates on the human consciousness unfolds
Hardcover, 182 pages
Published February 5th 2013 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Average rating 2.88  · 
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 ·  1,013 ratings  ·  255 reviews

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See now then this reviewer who has read this book, yes, the See Now Then: A Novel book, and is now, right now, writing this review thinking about its poetry and its cadence and its misery and its joy and its endless train of words and very few sentences; and this reviewer is thinking about the motion of a train and how if you focus on one spot, a signpost perhaps, or a young child sitting on a hill as the train speeds by, how the train is then a blur; and if you focus on one car in the train it ...more
This book just did not do it for me. I am a fan of Jamaica Kincaid from previous novels so my hopes and expectations were high. Even had they been low, See Now Then still would have fallen short of them. Nothing that I disliked about it is unintentional. It wasn't a case of poor execution. Kincaid wrote this story in the manner that she did with purpose that simply did not appeal to me. The constant repetition of certain words/phrases did little to lull me in. This is a short novel, coming in at ...more
Jun 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
So I read "See Then Now" yesterday afternoon. I read it because I enjoy Jamaica's voice. I also read it because it the vast majority of the book takes place in the house I grew up in, the Shirley Jackson house. Jamaica's house was across the street.

I can see how the appearance of folks from the neighborhood might cause some anxiety to those referenced, but there was nothing that struck me as particularly fanciful. Jamaica is a self-centered person and always has been. I think she's aware of this
Ted Mooney
Feb 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
Although a great deal has been made about the "autobiographical" elements of the elegant and fearless book, it is a mistake to dismiss too quickly the author's own insistence that it not a roman a clef but "a book about time." As always with Ms. Kincaid's work, the prose is uncanny in its sinuous movement, *demonstrating* rather than asserting how our experience is an ever shifting liquid rope braided of what was, what is, and what will be. While it is true that even the most minor characters (u ...more
Nov 23, 2012 rated it really liked it
Story of a dissolving marriage. You know it ain't right when you find out they are living in Shirley Jackson's old house in Vermont. May be one of the harshest treatment of family I've ever read- divided loyalties, broken promises, and endless disappointment, all told in Kincaid's shamanistic prose.

Feb 11, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: stopped-reading
What in the world? How did this get put (by me) at the top of my to-read shelf??? I think this is the type of book that is required reading in a literature class because of its unique stream-of-consciousness style. Every chapter is just one big run-on sentence. So hard for me to stick with and enjoy. Weird dis-likable characters. I almost quit early on but then was intrigued by Mr. Sweets secret hate for his wife and his desire to kill her. But even that lost my interest- never going anywhere, a ...more
Feb 22, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2013
Ugh. I really wanted to like this book, and I plodded through the entire 182 pages hoping that it would become engaging and worthy of my time. Did it? No.

It was absolutely impossible for me to get into the rhythm of the narrative. I find it incomprehensible that I finished the entire novel and know the barest of facts about the story- Mr. Sweet hated Mrs. Sweet, the Sweets live in the former home of Shirley Jackson (oh, how that fact was drilled into the reader's head), and Mr. Sweet leaves Mrs.
Mar 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, audio, read-2013
This is a fantastic novel and a challenge to read. In fact, I don't recommend that you read it. I recommend that you listen to the CD recording read by the author. Kincaid writes long sentences that circle around and repeat words. She says the first story she submitted to the New Yorker was 300 words and only one sentence. Many readers will be bored by the repetition. Yet, when you listen to Kincaid read the novel, the dead words on the page come alive.

This novel is a poetic meditation on famil
Feb 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, family, poetry, memoir
This memoir/novel is one long loud lament, an agonized and agonizing recall of the dissolution of Kincaid’s marriage to Allen Shawn, son of the famed New Yorker editor, William Shawn, who gave Kincaid her first big break to a career as writer. Every woman, every person wishes someone would love them for who they are, beautiful or not, talented or not, admirable in all things or not. For what is love if there is no flaw…”a flaw being necessary in perfection and in love too.”

Kincaid expresses her
Feb 18, 2013 rated it did not like it
Thank goodness this was a short book. To begin with, the format was a very difficult read. This author wrote in very, VERY long, run-on sentences, that left me, as the reader, breathless...and NOT because of any real action in the book! She wrote this book w/ a constant repetition of words and phrases..."the Sweets lived in the Shirley Jackson house" and "Mrs. Sweet came over on a banana boat", etc...mentioned literally dozens of times, not just on the same page or sentence, but through out the ...more
Jul 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
I so wanted to rate this 5 stars. I am a fan of Jamaica Kincaid's previous work. I enjoyed listening to her read this book, so much so that I am on my second listen, just to hear it again. You will like this book if you have patience; you may love this book if you love poetry, language, Jamaica Kincaid, or thinking about the passage of time, the tricks of memory, and the sorrow of life; or all of the above. You will not like this book at all if you are looking for linear storytelling, or storyte ...more
Nov 24, 2018 rated it liked it
See now Then. Then is Now. Now is Then. At first, she had to think about the sentences, the rush of thoughts, the constant flow, because Then is Now and Now is Then and the circle of life is not linear, she thought, but the language, the language Then and the language Now is beautiful.

Then that being said, once I got used to the flow of the book and the unusual sentence structure, I was swept up in a sad sad story about a marriage gone painfully, sadly, awfully wrong. The three star rating that
Mar 10, 2013 rated it liked it
In her stream of consciousness, lyrical style, Kincaid channels the inner thoughts of a family of four who live in a bucolic, Vermont town. There is a mother who is a writer (Mrs. Sweet), a father who is a composer with thwarted ambitions (Mr. Sweet), a son with ADD and a love for sports (Heracles), and a beautiful daughter (Persephone). The family formerly held great promise, but now they are resigned and bitter, with great animosity towards one another. The mother and father are undergoing a d ...more
May 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is less a novel than an exercise in poetic monologue, in Voice and Character--a darkly playful dirge-for-marriage shot through with surprising laugh-aloud gallows humor; an engine burning the dense and dangerous fuel of bitterness; a book only for the very brave and the unhurried, for those willing to take a careful Orphic expedition through an unsettling landscape where, perhaps, nothing at all may be rescued. * In short, a middle-aged Jewish couple and their daughter and son find the fami ...more
Feb 09, 2013 added it
There has been a lot of hype about this book and it sounded interesting. When I saw it on the library shelf, I had to grab it. I had just finished the new Jen Lancaster book so I thought since this was newer than my next book, I would read it first so that I could get it back to the library so that someone else could read it.

This is a story about the disintegration of a marriage. It takes place in a small town in Vermont and tells about the marriage of Mr And Mrs. Sweet. Yes, they are referred
This was a slow-paced stream of consciousness book. Unlike some like Thomas Bernhard's The Loser run like a freight train, but this is a much slower paced brain. Might be closer to 3 stars, but I grew weary of the "Shirley Jackson" house. I'm sure there was something the author was trying to convey through repeatedly reminding me of this fact in the story, but it lost its usefulness. ...more
Ann Phelan Phelan
Feb 18, 2013 rated it it was ok
I couldn't follow it..the writing style drove me crazy..I have read ALL of Ms. Kincaid's books. Having lived in Antigua and having been married to an Antiguan I feel a loyalty and understanding with her writing and experiences...this book, I could not get into..will try another time
Lekeisha The Booknerd
My first JK novel and it wasn't as great as I'd hoped. I couldn't relate to this story, at all. Hopefully, the next go 'round will be better.
Nov 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Angry, uncompromising, beautiful, and unique.
Vivian Valvano
Mar 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
First of all, to anyone who insists on belaboring whether this is really a novel or just a bitter, only slightly shaded autobiographical account of Kincaid's marriage (despite the clear label given by the author on the cover page), get over it! It's a novel! Children live in a father's pocket! Time shifts and dissolves (see now; see then ...) in the streams of consciousness of characters! This is fiction; this is literature in operation. SEE NOW THEN: A NOVEL is an elegantly written account of a ...more
Perhaps I should sum up this review in five words. It was not for me. It most definitely wasn't. But then again, I do think there's something else wrong with this book. It's a story of a family of 4, the Sweets - Mr Sweet is a mediocre composer struggling in a small town in Vermont, Mrs. Sweet who came on a banana boat, their son the young Heracles who doesn't seem to have any distinguishing characters other than his youth and their daughter the beautiful Persephone, ditto. And they all live in ...more
May 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Jamaica Kincaid says this novel came from her attempt to write a different kind of sentence-- at least, that's what I remember hearing her say at a series of reading/craft talks over the past several years. Felt the presence of Woolf and Stein throughout this book (although I have a much better handle on Woolf, what I remember of Stein was very insistently brought to mind). Kincaid's sentences are gorgeous and they feel very much like the way a certain kind of mind works: lyrical, associative. B ...more
Mar 07, 2013 rated it it was ok
See Now Then is a wonderful, funny book with some of the most beautiful sentences I have ever read. I wish I could imitate the writing so that you could see what it is like but I can't. I've heard that it is the story of Jamaica Kincaid's marriage - whether it is or is not, it is biting about marriage and parenthood in a complex way. Mrs. Sweet met Mr. Sweet in New York. He writes music and has discovered that his marriage to Mrs. Sweet is not what he wants. She juggles creditors that they can't ...more
May 24, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: did-not-finish
I very rarely do not finish books. I very rarely do not finish short books of less than 200 pages. I even more rarely do not finish books in the last two weeks of my reading challenge.

But this book is just abominable and was really getting in the way of trying to read other books, and when I discovered another book in my possession which worked for the slotted task, that was it -- I decided it was time to cut my losses. If you like repetitious, run-on, stream of consciousness writing about a fa
Mar 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
From the other reviews, it seems clear that readers either love or hate this novel. It took me a while to get a feeling either way, but I eventually came to love the repetition, the metaphors, the language Jamaica Kincaid employed in the crafting of this novel. And I especially love that she read this for the audio version. So much would be lost if it had been read by anyone else.

And after reading an excerpt online, I must say that this is a book better listened to. I doubt that I would have got
Carol Shedd
Apr 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
1st book of hers that I have read, and I was captivated by the first words. The author has a gift for capturing the heartbreaking details of family life,
especially the potential loss of the self that marriage and motherhood can cause. Though mostly very serious in tone, she also creates many hysterically funny sections about lighter moments. The continual time shifting of then and now provided a deeper context to think about the meaning of the passage of time as it relates to the character's re
Kate Savage
Nov 13, 2013 rated it liked it
This is called a novel but everyone knows it's just a loose-jointed memoir. I wanted to be on Kincaid's team, on her side. When your marriage ends horribly you write out the story of it, full confessional, no-holds-barred. It seems brave, and honest.

And maybe it is brave and it is honest, but I'm not certain it's the best literature. Kincaid is so talented, she could tell this story differently. Instead she tells it raw. And maybe it's just my own bourgeois upbringing, but with such a personal s
Sharon May
Mar 16, 2013 rated it it was ok
Wow...I've never read any of her work before and had read the reviews saying that it was autobiographical. I mostly felt that it was sad - a very sad portrayal of marriage and parenthood. While we all feel angry and maybe border on hate for moments in our marriage and family life, I pray that most people don't feel the horrible anger and hatred that everyone in this book seemed to have for each other at varying times. Add to that the writing style where sentences were pages long - I was just gla ...more
Laura Hogensen
Feb 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
A luminous, heartbreaking novel from Kincaid. A stream of consciousness narrative of the end of a marriage (as well as its beginning and middle). The past, present, and future blend together in the mind of Mrs. Sweet as well as her husband, and sometimes their children. While not uplifting at all, this was a novel that made me stretch and challenged me, and it's been awhile since I've read a nonlinear novel, but I thoroughly enjoyed the workout this one gave me. Kincaid is a great writer.
Dec 08, 2014 rated it did not like it
As I said in my college course, while reading this novel I felt as if I were at a holiday gathering, attempting to leave and an old, senile aunt won't leave me alone. This book was basically try-hard blathering for too many pages. I got the dismantled marriage message, but the rest of the writing was just unnecessary.

If you enjoy books where you need to read one sentence at least three times to even start to comprehend it's purpose, this book is for you.
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Literary Fiction ...: Discussion: See Now Then 119 169 Mar 05, 2015 09:34AM  

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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.

Articles featuring this book

The celebrated author discusses the intersection between autobiography and fiction in See Now Then, her new novel about marriage, love, and hate.
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“Oh what a morning it was, that first morning of Mrs. Sweet awaking before the baby Heracles with his angry cries, declaring his hunger, the discomfort of his wet diaper, the very aggravation of being new and in the world; the rays of sun were falling on the just and unjust, the beautiful and the ugly, causing the innocent dew to evaporate; the sun, the dew, the little waterfall right next to the village's firehouse, making a roar, though really it was an imitation of the roar of a real waterfall; the smell of some flower, faint, as it unfurled its petals for the first time: oh what a morning!” 5 likes
“plunge ahead, put one foot in front of the other, straighten your back and your shoulders and everything else that is likely to slump, buck up and go forward, and in this way, every obstacle, be it physical or only imaged, falls face down in obeisance and in absolute defeat...” 1 likes
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