“I decided as soon as I got up that there comes a time when the botheration and fabrication is too much, even for a man of my considerable fortitude.
I want to spend my remaining years with Morris”
It’s May 2010 and 74-year-old Barrington Jedidiah Walker is contemplating leaving his fifty-year marriage to live fully and openly as a gay man. Mr. Loverman has been with his lover Morris for as long as he’s been married to his wife Carmel. Fifty years to immigrate to London in his twenties and navigate England as an Antiguan man; to build a life with Carmel and their two children; to maintain a life-sustaining tryst; to suffer fear and shame; fifty years of starts and stops.
The story to portray this life should be character-driven and how good the story is will depend on the scope, richness and complexity of the character.
Bernardine Evaristo is
up to this task. She is a master. She is brilliant. How is it that Mr. Loverman is the first of her eight books that I’ve read? Mehn!
Barrington Jedidiah Walker is witty, hilarious and erudite (I had to read this in the solitude of my bedroom because his quips and bon mots had me hollering). He holds forth on a variety of issues – including race, gentrification, business, parenting, progress, and immigration. He is perceptive. He is ebullient. He loves language. He loves life. He has pizzazz (I’d have to dress up to have tea with Barrington!). The vigor and vitality, oh my.
He’s in love with Morris. Their love is beautiful. Barrington is an affectionate, generous father and grandfather. He is a pillar of the Caribbean community.
But he’s conflicted and scared. He’s paranoid. He’s trying to shed the shame of being in the closet for most of his life. He is fully aware of what this double-life, this half-life has cost him.
It’s ridiculous how rich, how complete Barrington is on the pages of Mr. Loverman.
To top it off, he is a tad unreliable, especially when it comes to the telling of Carmel. In ‘Art of a Marriage’, the opening chapter, Barrington sneaks into his wife’s bed at dawn following an evening out with Morris. He’s made a whole show of tiptoe-ing, skulking, squeezing and hushing himself into his house. Of course, this is a set up for maximum sympathy from the reader when Carmel wakes up and is rightly pissed. In the dawn exchanges, Carmel is portrayed as a shrill, “revisionist”, demented, Pentecostal witch.
“She is the Sphinx guarding the city of Thebes. Head of a woman, body of a lioness, wings of an eagle, memory of an elephant, bite of a saltwater crocodile with two-thousand pounds square inch of pressure, ready to snap my head off”
At the end of the chapter, Barrington says to himself:
Carmel… dear, you know what? I tell you what? You right. God a-damn me a-ready. I was fast-tracked down into Eternal Flames a long time ago. God a-damn me the day I chose to enter this hellish so-called marriage instead of following my Morris-loving, sweet-loving, full-blooded, hot-blooded, pumping-rumping, throbbing organ of an uncontainable, unrestrainable, undetainable man-loving heart”.
The issue here isn’t whether Barrington’s deception is justified. No. For Carmel, the issue is a fifty-year marriage that is an emotional wasteland. Barrington is unable to acknowledge the strain, the desolation, the loneliness that his deception has meant to Carmel.
To answer the reader’s inevitable questions regarding what exactly Carmel knows about Barrington’s double-life and how she came to marry him in the first, Evaristo intersperses Barrington’s story with chapters where Carmel fills in her backstory from 1960s Antigua onwards. Evaristo’s depiction of Carmel is profoundly human and touching. It’s as though the author needs to appease Carmel for putting her in that marriage. (And there’s nothing wrong with that, the format and point-of-view work superbly). Selfish me and my attachment to unreliable characters, I wanted the book to be all Barrington, for Barrington to work through and confront his treatment of Carmel and arrive at the same point in the end. Then again, one can’t trust unreliable characters to right themselves!
Mr. Loverman is marvelous. Although focused on Barrington’s struggles to attempt to live openly as an older gay man, it also illuminates the different racial, social and cultural spaces that the Walkers occupy. Having read the book, it seems to me that Barrington has been here all this while. A poetic, compassionate and compelling story. A big-hearted book!