* Winner of the Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBT Fiction
* A Top Ten Favorite of the American Library Association’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table’s 2015 Over the Rainbow List
Barrington Jedidiah Walker is seventy-four and leads a double life. Born and bred in Antigua, he’s lived in Hackney, London, for years. A flamboyant, wisecracking character with a dapper taste in retro suits, and a fondness for Shakespeare, Barrington is a husband, father, grandfather—and also secretly gay lovers with his childhood friend, Morris.
His deeply religious and disappointed wife, Carmel, thinks he sleeps with other women. When their marriage goes into meltdown, Barrington wants to divorce Carmel and live with Morris, but after a lifetime of fear and deception, will he manage to break away? With an abundance of laugh-out-loud humor and wit, Mr. Loverman explodes cultural myths and shows the extent of what can happen when people fear the consequences of being true to themselves.
“Evaristo’s confident control of the language, her vibrant use of humor, rhythm and poetry, and the realistic mix of Caribbean patois with both street and the Queen’s English . . . fix characters in the reader’s mind.” —The New York Times Book Review
“The novel proves to be revolutionary in its honest portrayal of gay men . . . and Evaristo’s writing is both intelligible and compelling.” —Library Journal
“Evaristo crafts a colorful look at a unique character confronting social normativity with a well-tuned voice and a resonant humanity.” —Publishers Weekly
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The Art of Marriage
Saturday, May 1, 2010
Morris is suffering from that affliction known as teetotalism. Oh yes, not another drop of drink is goin' pass his lips before he leaves this earth in a wooden box, he said just now when we was in the dance hall, Mighty Sparrow blasting "Barack the Magnificent" out of the sound system.
Last time it happen was when he decided to become vegetarian, which was rather amusing, as that fella has spent the whole of his life stuffing his face with every part of an animal except its hair and teeth. Anyways, all of a sudden Morris started throwing exotic words into the conversation like soya, tofu, and Quorn and asking me how I would feel if someone chop off mi leg and cook it for supper. I didn't even deign to reply. Apparently he'd watched one of those documentaries about battery chickens being injected with growth hormones and thereby deduced he was goin' turn into a woman, grow moobies and the like.
"Yes, Morris," I said. "But after seventy-something years eating chicken, I notice you still don't need no bra. So tell me, how you work that one out?"
Get this now: within the month I found myself walking past Smokey Joe's fried-chicken joint on Kingsland High Street, when who did I see inside, tearing into a piece of chicken, eyes disappearing into the back of his head in the throes of ecstasy like he was at an Ancient Greek bacchanalia being fed from a platter of juicy golden chicken thighs by a nubile Adonis? The look on his face when I burst in and catch him with all of that grease running down his chin. Laugh? Yes, Morris, mi bust mi-self laughing.
So there we was in the dance hall amid all of those sweaty, horny youngsters (relatively speaking) swivelling their hips effortlessly. And there was I trying to move my hips in a similar Hula-Hoop fashion, except these days it feels more like opening a rusty tin of soup with an old-fashioned can opener. I'm trying to bend my knees without showing any pain on my face and without accidentally goin' too far down, because I know I won't be able to get up again, while also tryin' to concentrate on what Morris is shouting in my ear.
"I mean it this time, Barry. I can't deal with all of this intoxication no more. My memory getting so bad I think Tuesday is Thursday, the bedroom is the bathroom, and I call my eldest son by my younger son's name. Then, when I make a cup of tea, I leave it standing till it cold. You know what, Barry? I goin' start reading some of that Shakespeare you love so much and doing crossword. What is more, I goin' join gym on pensioner discount so I can have sauna every day to keep my circulation pumping good, because between you, me, and these four walls ..."
He stopped and looked over his shoulder to make sure no one was eavesdropping. Right, Morris. Two old geezers talking about the trials and tribulations of being geriatric and the whole room of gyrating youth wants to know about it?
"I suddenly noticed last week, mi have varicose vein," he whispered into my ear so close he spat into it and I had to wipe it out with my finger.
"Morris," I say, "varicose vein is what happen when you is ole man. Get used to it. As for forgetfulness? Likely you got early dementia and nothing you can do about that except eat more oily fish. As for staying sober ..."
I shut up because Morris, with his eyebrows scrunched up pitifully, suddenly looked like a puppy dog. Usually he will banter right back, whack me on the head with the proverbial cricket bat. Morris is a sensitive fella but not hypersensitive, because that really would make him more woman than man — especially at a certain time of the month when they get that crazed look in they eyes and you better not say the wrong thing, or the right thing in the wrong way. Actually, even if you say the right thing in the right way they might come after you with a carving knife.
"Don't worry yourself. I is joking, man." I punched him in the chest. "If you was goin' off your head, I would be the first to tell you. Nothing to worry about, my friend. You as sane as you ever was." Then I mumbled out of the side of my mouth, "Which ain't saying much."
Morris just stared at me in that wounded way that he really should-a grown out of about sixty-nine years ago.
I worked out he must be in the throes of alcohol withdrawal. Not that I got direct experience of this withdrawal phenomenon, because I ain't never gone a day without the sweet sauce blessing my lips. Difference between me and Morris is that most days that is all I do, wet my lips with a taster, a chaser, a little something to warm me up. A sip of Appleton rum, a swig of Red Stripe or Dragon Stout, mainly to support the intemperance industry over there on the islands. Call it an act of benevolence. Only on a Saturday night do I give in to my bacchanalianese tendencies. In Morris's case, he don't consume the drink; the drink consumes him. Pickled. That man is pickled. The ratio of alcohol to blood in him must be ninety to ten, a-true. Not that he should worry, he's one of those pissheads who look good on it.
Finally, he decided to lighten up and crack a smile. Nobody can be depressed around me for long. Yesss. I am the Great Mood Levitator. I am the Human Valium.
"We veterans now," I tell him. "We have to adjust. What is more, we must believe that our best years are ahead of us, not behind us. Only way to deal with this nonstop train hurtling toward oblivion is to be positive. Is this not the Age of Positive Thinking? You know what they say, glass either half full or half empty. Let we make it half full. Do we have a deal, my man?"
I hold out my hand for a shake but instead he gets the wrong end of the stick and starts acting like a teenager, attempting one of those hip-hop, fist-pump, finger-flick handshakes that we both get all wrong and anybody looking will think we are a couple of pathetic old dudes trying to be cool.
Morris, oh, my dear Morris, what I goin' do with you? You have always been a worrier. Who is it who always tell you, "Morris, take it off your chest and put it on mine"?
Now look at you, that welterweight body of yours — selfsame one that used to do the "Morris Shuffle" around your opponents in the boxing ring to become Junior Boxing Champ of Antigua in 1951 — is still mighty strong in spite of a piddling varicose vein or two. You still the chap I used to know. Still got impressive musculature on your arms. Still got a stomach more concave than convex. Still got no lines except those around your neck, which nobody will notice anyways except me.
But Morris, there is one thing I does know for sure about you — your heart and mind has always liked to travel on that seagoin' vessel them-acall Lady Booze. No way are you goin' jump ship for dry land at this late stage in life and end up marooned on a desert island called Sobriety.
This I know without a doubt because I, Barrington Jedidiah Walker, Esq., have known you, Monsieur Morris Courtney de la Roux, since we was both high-pitched, smooth-cheeked mischief-makers waiting for we balls to drop.
I ain't complaining, because while Morris is planning on bettering himself, he chauffeurs me home in his Ford Fiesta, as I am too plastered to get behind the wheel of a car and negotiate the high roads and low roads of East London without getting arrested by the boys in blue. That's one thing I does miss — drinking, driving, and getting away with it, as we all did in the '60s and '70s. No CCTV cameras silently ogling you with their Cyclopean eyes three hundred times a day as you go about your business in London Town. Soon as I leave my door I watched. Big Brother come into we lives and none of us objecting. I can't even pick a booga out of mi own nose without it being filmed for posterity.
Morris drives me up to my yard, 100 Cazenove Road, Stoke Newington, waits to make sure I go in the right gate and don't collapse in the gutter, then drives off quietly in first gear with a cheery backhand wave.
He should be coming in for some spiced cocoa and some ole man's gentle comfort.
Instead, my heart sinks because I goin' into the lion's den.
This is the story of we lives.
Hellos and goodbyes.
* * *
I tiptoe up the noisy gravel path and, as Carmel has the hearing of a bat, I am in the Danger Zone. I turn the key in the lock, push open the door, and wait, cock-eared. In the old days Carmel sometimes used to bolt it, forcing me to haul my arse over the side-gate and sit on the lawn mower in the shed, waiting for the dawn to rise and for her wrath to descend. Until I kicked the garden side-door down one time to show her that she can't keep the king out of his castle no more.
Once safely inside, I take off my jacket and throw it so it hoops over the coatrack to the left of the door. It falls on the floor. Rack must-a moved. I try again. It lands on the stairs. Third time — back of the net! Gotcha! Yesss. You go-wan, Barry. I high-five myself to the cheers of the multitudes meanwhile catching sight in the hall mirror of the "dashing gentleman," as the English ladies used to coo back in the day. The ones with polite manners that is, as distinct from those trollops who hurled less flattering epithets at a man innocently strolling down the road minding his own business. Never no mind. Those days long gone. I've not been called no names by nobody except the wife for at least twenty years.
I am still a Saga Boy. Still here, thanks be to God. Still spruced up and sharp-suited with a rather manly swagger. Still six-foot-something with no sign of shrinkage yet. Still working a certain je ne sais whatsit. I might have lost the hair on my head, but I still got a finely clipped mustache in the style of old Hollywood romancers. Folk used to tell me I looked like a young Sidney Poitier. Now they say I resemble a (slightly) older Denzel Washington. Who am I to argue? The facts is the facts. Some of us have it, some of us do not. Bring it on, Barry. Bring it on ...
Seeing as I been acting like a cat burglar in my own home for fifty years, climbing the stairs toward her lair is fraught with anxiety.
The bedroom door is ajar.
I squeeze myself through and creep inside.
First thing I do in the darkness is slide out the gold clip that holds the two tongues of my blue-striped tie together. Only decent thing I got when I retired from Ford Motors in Dagenham. After forty years at the coal face mi get a tie, mi get a rubbish-engraved plate, mi get a watch that is more Timex than Rolex, and mi get a clammy handshake and patronizing speech from the managing director Mr. Lardy Comb-Over in the staff canteen.
"It is with tremendous sadness, Mr. Walker, that we say goodbye to an employee who has given us such dedicated service over such an extended period of time. Your presence on the factory floor has greatly endeared you to your colleagues. You are quite the joker, I hear, quite the anecdotalist, quite the raconteur." He paused to study me, like he wasn't so sure I understood words of five syllables or ones that was a bit Frenchified, then added, "Oh, you know, one who regales others with stories."
Oh boy, I catch so much fire when people talk down to me like I'm some backa-bush dumb arse who don't understand the ins and outs of the Queen's English. Like I wasn't educated at Antigua Grammar School, best one in the country. Like all my teachers didn't come from the colonial mothership. Like this here Little Englander can't speak the Queen's as well as any Big Englander over there — I mean here. And so what if me and my people choose to mash up the henglish linguish whenever we feel like it, drop our prepositions with our panties, piss in the pot of correct syntax and spelling, and mangle our grammar at random? Is this not our postmodern, postcolonial prerogative?
Anyways, when I arrived here on the good ship Immigrant, I brought with me a portmanteau of school certificates, and the only reason I didn't go to no university was because I didn't score highly enough to get the single government scholarship to a university in England. I been taking evening classes since 1971 to make up for it.
Sociology, psychology, archaeology, ologyology — you name it. English literature, French language, naturellement. Don't even get me started on Mr. Shakespeare, Esq., with whom I been having the most satisfying cerebral relationship, sirrah. I know my artology too: Miró, Monet, Manet, Man Ray, Matisse, Michelangelo, Murillo, Modigliani, Morandi, Munch, Moore, and Mondrian, not to mention the rest of the alphabet. I even dragged Morris to that controversial Sensation exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1997 to see Emin's slutty bed, Ofili's elephant dung, Hirst's pickled shark, and Quinn's bloody head. Morris scoffed, "I can do better than that."
To which I replied, "It might be more concept than craft, Morris, but art would be boring if artists still only painted buff male bodies with rock-hard buttocks, juicy lips, and dangling protuberances in the style of the Renaissance."
Although ... come to think of it, perhaps not ...
Morris's final word on the matter? "In that case I'm goin' piss in a bucket and exhibit it as Art with a capital A."
Morris's problem is he don't like to go too deep. It's not that he's not capable, because that man is smarter than most. He's the one who got the scholarship to study maths at Hull University, but when he got there he didn't like the cold, didn't like the food, didn't like the course, didn't do the work, and, when he was sent down at the end of his second year, didn't want to go home. Lucky fella found work as a bookkeeper for a textile wholesaler in Stratford, which was pretty good, seeing it was hard for we people to land such jobs. His boss was a Mr. Szapiro, a Polish Jew who'd escaped the Warsaw ghetto. Morris liked his boss but was bored brainless by the job. Nonetheless, he stayed forty-three years.
All the while, I was getting intellectualized. This here humble engine-fitter can pontificate about all of those chin-stroking armchair philosophizers with the best of them. How Socrates believed we should know ourselves and question everything, break through the limits of we own beliefs. Plato said being a moral person meant not just knowing what is right but choosing it as well. But I eventually realized that if you spend too much time with these Ancient Greek eggheads, your mind will spin off into the stratosphere. They are so mentalist, you goin' end up demented. So I dropped my philosophy class at Birkbeck and reverted to the most ancient and most reliable kinda wisdom: homespun.
If only I'd told Comb-Over I'd not even needed to work at Ford's for years, because I'd been building up my property business since the '60s, buying cheap, doing up, getting Solomon & Rogers Estate Agency to rent out. The only reason I continued clocking in at the factory was because I actually enjoyed the work and liked working with my hands. Man must work with his hands, not so? And I would-a missed my workmates too bad: Rakesh, Tommy, Alonso, Tolu, Chong, Arthur, Omar — the United Nations of Ford's, as we dubbed ourselves.
I place the tie clip inside the small bowl on the bedside table, the one with blue storks painted on it à la Chinese porcelain of the Ming Dynasty period, I do believe. Its stem-cup design with peony scrolls is certainly recognizable from my numerous expeditions to the Victoria and Albert Museum, to which I frog-march Morris. Only difference between this bowl and the original is that Carmel bought this one in Woolworth's for 99p in 1987. That's never no mind, because God will not be able to help me should I ever break the damn thing. Selfsame bowl used to hold all of those lemon sherbet sweets I loved exploding in my mouth before I decided to stop taking my pearlies for granted. Just as well, because I can still bedazzle with my indestructible ivories. Must be the only seventy-four-year-old in the land with his own full set, not a single one extracted, capped, veneered, or crowned.
Next, I unloop my tie and drape it over the doorknob of the wardrobe just behind me, twisting my torso away from my hip a bit too sharpish. I freeze, turn back, and allow my muscles to realign, everything facing in the same direction: head, shoulders, hips. Gotta be careful, because at my age something that should stretch might snap instead.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Mr. Loverman"
Copyright © 2014 Bernardine Evaristo.
Excerpted by permission of Akashic Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I got this book through the LibraryThing Early Review program. I'll admit: I did not like this book at first blush. I finished the book and couldn't figure out why a quick, engaging, thought-provoking novel left me cold. When I finally figured it out, I realized I did like the book, just not in the way I wanted to, but rather in a better way (which is why it made me think). The main character, Barry, is the villain of the story. Let me be clear: he is not A villain. Rather he's the villain of the story. He married a woman he did not love to cover up his gay affair, he took her away from her home by moving to a different country, he had two kids with her that he by turns hyper-criticized/spoiled rotten, he didn't leave his wife when the children were grown, he wasn't careful about hiding his affair from his kids (so they grew up in a house of a lot of secrets), and he treated his lover, Morris, abominably for many years. I sympathize with Barry - he had a lot of difficult decisions to make - but he is absolutely the villain of the story. He's created a broken house around himself all because it was more comfortable. He is selfish and sometimes cruel. That all being said, the writing was excellent. Dialectal differences between characters, accents portrayed in spelling, even the different styles of speaking from the two narrators, were all extremely well executed. The character development, while Barry changes little (in true villain form), was well done for all the others, and it was an incredibly interesting experience to experience the story from the villain's point of view. (To be fair, some people may call Barry an anti-hero, but I don't think he fits that mold as well.) The past was told mainly in the wife's voice and I really appreciated getting to see her points of view. They were a necessary balance to Barry's very selfish, fault-casting personality. There are also some very interesting discussions in the books about feminism, religion, race, and the immigrant experience. Barry, Morris, and their wives were born, educated, and raised in Antigua, then moved to England. This entire book is about discovering how to live the life YOU want, and these discussions are secondary to Barry's secret sexuality, but they are VERY much a part of what both of the families have to deal with in a culture not their own and not particularly welcoming. Barry is flawed and ANNOYING. He's lied to everyone (including himself, convincing himself that it's not an affair if he's not sleeping with other women) his entire life. He has a lot of internalized/generational sexism and homophobia. He's a pretty terrible parent. He's so imperfect. But this story wasn't ever meant to be about perfection or redemption, so far as I can tell. It was about a series of lives long lived in the shadows and how each person needed to find their way out. I wouldn't recommend this book to everyone, but I did very much enjoy it myself. B+ (excellent writing in style and execution, interesting narrator choices; main character difficult to appreciate/relate to)
I blazed through the novel the Saturday after meeting the author @ Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn. Ms. Evaristo's characters are very much like many people in real life: complex and complicated for all sorts of reasons...and yet we construct all sorts of relationships with them. I found the senior sex authentic and hot! And she wrought the anonymous, public sex MLM connections with care. Ms. Evaristo throws in all sorts of contributions from LGBTQ cultural studies, but does not even make a slight reference to HIV-AIDS and its overrepresentation among MLM. Not even one of the pub-hopping tertiary characters is on anti-retrovirals. One writer friend said that would have made it another novel. Perhaps yes...one more temporally attentive?
Title: Mr. Loverman Author: Bernadine Evaristo Publisher: Akashic Books Reviewed By: Arlena Dean Rating: 5 Review: "Mr. Loverman" by Bernadine Evaristo was a delightful fiction love read. I found that the author's narrators were splendid giving you such a touching and well written story that I found hard to put down until the very end. The cast of characters were very humorous (some) as well memorable, defined and portrayed. The area of this place in Hackney, London seemed like a place that was describe so very well making you think you were there while you are reading the novel. Be ready for a read where you will find Mr. Loverman involved in his secrecy of what it really meant for him to be free where we find he lives a double life. Who would have thought at a man in his seventies, who had been married over fifty years would have this huge secret that would come out the way it did? And just what was that secret? As I was reading thorough this novel I was kept wondering wow, how well this author Ms. Evaristo was putting this out to the reader and doing a good job at it. I couldn't stop reading just turning the pages to see what was coming next for Mr. Loverman. Yes, it was somewhat heartbreaking read with a 'full bodied riff on sex, secrecy and family' and yet we will find from the read when "Mr. Loverman explodes cultural myths and shows what can happen when people fear the consequences of being true to themselves." I felt that "Mr. Loverman" was a good read and all I can do now is recommend for you to pick up "Mr. Loverman" and read it for yourself to see what all that has and is going on with this main character.