'Til the Well Runs Dry
A Novel
Lauren Francis-Sharma
(Henry Holt)
I've been wrestling with this son-of-a-bitch for the last month and I give up. The problem?

It has to do with me trying to do all those reviewerly things like gather up all the facts now and tell you that this is the story of Marcia Garcia and she lived in Trinidad not so long ago and one day a policeman named Farouk Karam saw her and although she was only sixteen she carried herself with aplomb and the moment he tried to come on to her she said, "You don't know me" and he said "That's why I'm here" and she said "Maybe I don't wanta be known . . . " and it goes from there with Farouk and Marcia until they stay together off and on for eight years and she has four babies and then gets sent away by her wicked uncle to work in the U. S. and ends up in Maryland in a state of near slavery until she saves up and gets the hell out of here and back down to the island with her children where she belongs. This is her journey, 'Til the Well Runs Dry.

But then I figured out the reason that it was so hard to get the book down on the page for you and for me is because if there is a story-line it's a sneaky one somewhere down there with all the flowers and lakes and ferns and coconuts and music and I am damned if I can find it wandering about all over the place up in the hot hills down to the water's edge a creature that doesn't give a toot for those things we used to call "plot" and "structure" just bopping around like some kid, here and there on a ramble through lives of all these people and the sweet smells coming out of their kitchens. Makes you kinda hungry though, makes you want to spend some time down at the market sniffing spicy cucumbers, groping bags of dried sorrel and fresh ginger, buying the breadfruit, "rummage through the okra and dasheen bush, searching for the freshest of the bunch to add to the Sunday callaloo."

§   §   §

We learn some things, though. Trinidad is one of those places where the smells and flowers and birds take you over; also, it's a place where everyone knows everyone's business. Farouk --- his family is from India, evidently now quite a presence in Trinidad --- and he keeps defying Mom and Dad and going over to Blanchisseuse where Marcia lives . . . . can't stop making the trip and this is what he gets for his troubles: "Man, you crazy or what?" the taxi driver lectured.

This isn't even Mom or Dad --- this is just your regular taxi driver: "Your eyes must be burnin'! You payin' this kinda money to go way into de bush for some gal? You mad? I not gon' more than t'ree miles to find nobody! You're a good-lookin' fella, too. What you does need a country gal livin' behin' God back to rub against for? You can't get no nice Indian girl in Tunapuna to make some anchar and some dhal puri for you? You spendin' up your money on some red country, bookie gal?"

    He pushed the money I had paid him up front into his shirt pocket. "If I can't pass on de road, I keepin' de money and turnin' right around, you hear? I not goin' up to Blanchisseuse to dead in no pool of mud. Dem hills lookin' to bury me. I'll drop you right back here in Arima, but I keepin' de money. We a'right with that?"

That must have been what did it. One sole speech from some off-the-wall taxista, telling this Farouk that he is definitely on the wrong road. We know better. We've already met Marcia, and we want to tag along with her. Taxi-man is right, but it's not her fault: she's the one we'd like to run off with, too, if we were just somehow magically back in our salad years.

She's feisty and funny, comes off like a Trinidadian Moll Flanders or calaloo Molly Bloom --- filled with spikes and smarts and the survival mechanism for her and the four kids that Farouk --- who ain't no slouch either --- manages to plant on her.

The Well is crammed with the worst of the worst in Trinidad or anywhere else: rape, incest, drugs, evil police, evil politicians, witches, spells, mud dust dirt heat, nasty parents and in-laws, snarky businessmen. And yet . . . and yet with Marcia and Farouk and the kids we get to lead a rich hot tropical life, actually pretty funny, sometimes heart-stopping in each of these short chapters, packed with intrigue, tension, perfect pitch, someone moiling with someone else, Farouk being stupid again, Marcia saying never again --- yet a perfect foil for him. How, we ask ourselves, can she continue to be with this ninny, and sometimes we wonder how Marcia is going to make it what with her super creepy Uncle Linton the creepy old bastard that . . . .

But no, I'm not going to do any story telling. Let Lauren do that. Just know that she knows how to cook up a dandy plot, as rambly as it is, able to find comedy in the worst of the worst, the best, too. Need I say: can't-put-it-down? Trust me.

Just one more quote. Farouk Karem is one of those apparently rare creatures: a cop who doesn't have to rob you blind. Here he is with his chief. They've just gotten back from the house of Rogers, the Mr. Big of Trinidad --- sells dope, booze, sex, women.

Morlock, Karem's boss, talks on, reminding us how small the island of their world can be:

    He crunched on ice from the glass the bartender had set down. "How'd you like them pretty gals Rogers had there?" He nudged my drink back toward me. "Oh yeah, I hear you're a one-woman man," He snickered. "A wife and four chil'ren, right" His tilted eyes peered over his tilted glass. ""Oooohhhh yeah, yeah, that's right. I hear she kicked you out. You takin' up with some obeah [witch] lady's daughter. I hear she's as rough as the mudda."

    I glared at him and finally spoke. "Rough can be good, no?"

    "Depends on who's roughing you up. Or if the person being roughed up is somebody you love." He grinned. "Not so good when you can't see it coming and you can't do nutting to stop it." He extended his small, wet hand toward me for a solid shake. "Keep doin' whatya doin', Karam. Everyt'ing and every somebody gointa be alright."

With short speeches like this sprinkled though The Well, a reviewer like me doesn't really have to do anything: no quick dry summary. Except to tell you to get it and to read it. You really should.

They say the author is a lawyer in Maryland. Let us pray that she gets the light soon enough, gives up the Dark Profession as quickly as possible, takes up writing full-time. So we can have some more dazzling works like 'Til the Well Runs Dry to keep us up all goddamn night biting our nails, wondering what's going to come next, hoping Marcia doesn't get blindsided again, by that idiot Farouk, not again, please no.

--- Carlos Amantea
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