A Cupboard Full of Coats by Yvette EdwardsReading the Longlist:

The Pumpkin-Curry-

Plus-Talking Cure

A Cupboard Full of Coats
by Yvvette Edwards
Review by Wendy Bourgeois

Yvvette Edwards’ A Cupboard Full of Coats, a trauma narrative with a surface patina of Junot Diaz, portrays Caribbean immigrant culture in contemporary London through the eyes of psychologically brittle single mother Jinx. The plot centers around the narrator’s inability to heal from her own mother’s death fourteen years previous, which, we learn from the first page, she believes she is responsible for. Visited by a ghost from her past, the wise and fatherly Lemon, Jinx must revisit the crime scene with Lemon’s help and make peace with her violent past.

As a narrator, Jinx is familiar to us from Lifetime movies in which the noble yet scarred heroine must solve a mystery in order to go on living and loving. Jinx has made a mess of her life, complete with a hostile and exasperated ex and a small son she cannot love. She exhibits all the signs of PTSD, clearly and often.  She likes to run (from the pain) and do hair and makeup for dead people (because the dead don’t ask questions).  She also smokes and stares into space a lot. 

The early scenes with Jinx’s son are cringeworthy, not because we see her doing anything cruel, but because we don’t. The way the child responds to her, in near terror, would be heartrending had we witnessed behavior that would justify it, but the author seems reluctant to allow Jinx any true menace.  She seems sad and distracted, but certainly not worse or even close to Jinx’s own mother, whom Jinx clearly adored. To be fair, Jinx’s mother had but one flaw, though it was a doozy: “Failure to Recognize a Bad Man.”  FRBM is serious and, in the case of Jinx's mother, fatal, but it's not going to ruin a woman in quite the same way that FRGM (Failure to Recognize a Good Man) does. This disorder, passed down from mothers with FRBM, apparently won’t kill you, but it will make you a monster to your child despite all your attempts at healthy fat-free cooking and quality time.  Through one weekend with the inexplicably nurturing alcoholic Lemon, Jinx must take the pumpkin-curry-plus-talking cure Lemon offers and learn to trust again. 

The plot is predictable, but that’s okay—there’s pleasure to be had in following a familiar road with interesting people. Unfortunately, Lemon suffers from the same awkward, lumbering characterization as Jinx. Both are Frankensteinian mash-ups of two or three tropes—novel in their combination, but inexpert in their synthesis. In other words, the seams show. The characters read like middlebrow realistic fiction protagonists who have been “colored” in order to liven things up a bit, and that’s a shame. I suspect the message here was meant to be that underneath the addictions and the ethnic cuisine, we're all the same.  Bu culture impacts us on a deeper level than what we wear and what we eat.  How we respond to death, guilt, and loss can also be culturally specific, and Edwards has missed a fine opportunity to show us something unique about a community, choosing instead to reassure us of a platitude. Ω

Wendy Bourgeois is a poet and writer. Her poems "Dear Beloved Other" appeared in the spring 2011 issue.