“Gloria: A Novel” by Kerry Young

Terri Schlichenmeyer | 8/22/2013, 9:40 a.m. | Updated on 8/22/2013, 9:40 a.m.
You know your height and weight. Favorite color, sense of humor, likes and dislikes, history and mysteries. Sure, you know ...

Do you know yourself well enough?

You know your height and weight. Favorite color, sense of humor, likes and dislikes, history and mysteries. Sure, you know yourself better than anybody.

Or do you? There were things that happened before you were born that you’ll never hear about, things that occurred when you were small and can’t remember, things your spouse doesn’t mention, your parents never told you, your children keep quiet. And in the new novel “Gloria” by Kerry Young, some secrets run even deeper.

His hands were rough.

Sixteen-year-old Gloria Campbell remembered that as she bashed Barrington Maxwell’s head in. She didn’t plan to kill him, but when she heard her younger sister Marcia’s screams, she reacted rashly. Maxwell was doing to Marcia what he’d done to Gloria not long before. He wouldn’t do it again.

But when Maxwell’s body was found, fingers pointed. Gloria knew that she and Marcia had to leave their small village and go to Kingston, where life for young Jamaican women wasn’t easy. Still, they’d manage.

After struggling with low-paying jobs that made her skin crawl, however, Gloria came to realize that the only way they’d manage was to sell themselves to men. She resisted it – how could Marcia even consider it? - but Sybil, the owner of the house they’d moved into, said it was “the only way yu going mek yuself a life that is your own…”

Making that life was easier with the help of Henry Wong, Gloria’s wealthy friend who became wealthier by giving the women money to run a lending service on the Kingston streets. It helped, too, that Gloria fell in love with Pao, the man Henry sent to provide “protection” from deadbeats.

Pao was a married man, but he loved Gloria and couldn’t stop seeing her. She loved him through her jealousy, and felt safe with him. She couldn’t understand, though, with Pao’s history of street enforcement, why he would become friends with the new local policeman.

She couldn’t understand why the new policeman seemed to have such an interest in her…

While I generally liked “Gloria” and while I thought it was, at its core, a very fine book, I often found it to be a challenge for a couple of reasons.

Right from the outset, I had trouble with the patois in the dialogue. Author Kerry Young adds authenticity here, and while that ended up being one of the main things I liked about the book, I had a hard time with it initially. The difficulties didn’t last long, but they bear mentioning.

The bigger issue, I think, is that the story drags sometimes. That tended to make me lose interest. For sure, I lost track of who was who because of it.

To the good, though, this book does an excellent job in taking readers to a not-so-innocent time and place, politically, socially, and economically, and I liked that a lot. I think, overall, if you can bear with the bumps and savor that goodness, you may like “Gloria” well enough.