Born in Trinidad and schooled at Columbia University in New York City, Kelvin Christopher James has an immigrant’s eye for nuance. His stories in Jumping Ship animate both the Caribbean and Harlem with an accuracy given to those who can’t afford not to pay attention.
That concentration — whether he’s exploring a mango’s juicy eroticism or coolly detailing a gang rape — allows him limited story lines. The five Caribbean vignettes that open the book cover familiar subjects: sibling rivalry, puberty, a storytelling witch. James revives and expands them with his sunbathed, expressionistic prose. The Harlem stories recycle some classic urban figures (the philosophical gang member, the turf-wary bag lady), but here too, James dredges insight from clichés. ”Entering his homeland,” he writes of a Trinidadian in the final story, ”made (him) feel vaguely criminal, like some felon…being allowed back to anxious society.” Ironically, James himself seems quite at home crossing borders. B+