DESIRES, A Collection of Caribbean Short Stories by Vaughn T. Stanford

Review by: CHJ Rousseau

TRINIDAD – In Desires, a collection of short stories by Trinidadian Vaughn T. Stanford, the writer holds up a mirror to our eyes, and by some arcane osmotic process we become more than merely the observer: we are the mirror itself, and the reflection.

Writer/teacher Stanford selects appropriately diverse strands of the society we are in the process of creating and paints them in all their multihued brilliance.

Vaughn T. Stanford

Realism is the key: each story is startling cinema verité, each character someone we know, each exchange a conversation we have heard or participated in. The protagonists face their challenges while learning, changing, despairing and triumphing, and their stories are our stories.

Louise Bennett, in her prologue to The Woman, the Writer & Caribbean Society*, observes that these societies can benefit from the words of the writers and artists who celebrate the richness of experience of our people, thus renewing faith in self and engendering hope.

Stanford’s characters are all too humanly fallible, wrestling with their family lives, forging their identities, searching for truth, dreaming their dreams, spiraling into self-destruction, triumphing over the odds. As Bennett observes, the journey of the Caribbean people has not been “nice” or “pretty” and these stories are devoid of sentimentality which would be out of place amidst the stark realism presented.

One of the stories, the short noir piece The Letter, is steeped in the stygian despair of the protagonist who fails to find a way out of his private abyss.

In When Tears Are Not Enough and The Victim, two women each find a way out of the maze of pain and degradation wreaked by violent domestic abuse in one case and childhood sexual assault in the other, both triumphing despite the odds stacked against them.

A Question of Justice and Beyond Suspicion reflect the pandemic of violent crime that threatens the very existence of these Caribbean societies, and examine the nature of justice, the vigilante code, the implications of the trade in illegal drugs, and retribution in various forms.

Desire is the story of Every teacher as he faces the students whose youth, beauty and promise are constantly at war with the damage inflicted on them by their toxic, convulsing society: the violence, rape, rage, despair and betrayal – yet he manages to love them still and to find hope for the future.

In Two to Tangle, the longest piece, the themes of the other stories merge as we accompany Saleem on his odyssey from humble beginnings in a tiny wooden shack with a drunken, abusive father, into early adulthood after a youth spent in striving to achieve the advantages which had been lacking in his childhood. He faces the eternal dilemmas and discovers through trial and pain that life is not fair, that faith is not blind and unquestioning, that all men – himself included – have feet of clay, and, ultimately, that healing and redemption may be achieved through love.

As Bennett concludes, writers and artists play a vital role in creating and recreating for us images of our societies and of ourselves, and in so doing participate in forging our future. In Desires, we find poignant echoes of the way we used to be, reflections of who we are and visions of who we might become.

* Louise Bennett, “Prologue Message”, The Woman, The Writer & Caribbean Society, edited by Helen Pyne-Timothy (1998, Center for Afro-American Studies Publications, University of California, Los Angeles). The references are from page xvii.

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