'Til the Well Runs Dry
A Novel
Lauren Francis-Sharma
(Henry Holt)
Trinidad is one of those places where the gorgeous smells and riotous flowers and rainbow birds take over your senses. Also, it's a place where everyone knows everyone, certainly knows everyone's business much more than they should. Farouk keeps defying Mum and Dad and sneaking over to Blanchisseuse where feisty Marcia lives. He just can't stop making the trip, trying to win her heart. And what does he get for his troubles? Lectures. His taxi driver starts in the moment he gets in the car. "Man, you crazy or what?"

Now this isn't Farouk's Indian mother or father mind you. This is just your regular off-the-street Trinidad taxi driver (Farouk barely knows him): "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, what put a hex on us, made us fall in love with Farouk and Marcia and the whole of 'Til the Well Runs Dry. A scolding speech from an off-the-wall taxista, telling Farouk that he is definitely on the wrong road.

We know better. Because we've already met Marcia, and we're smitten with her. Taxi-man is right, the hills might bury us, but it's not Marcia's fault, because she's the one we'd like to run off with too, if we were just back there 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 all kinds of survival mechanisms for her and the four kids that Farouk manages to plant on her.

The Well is crammed with the worst of the worst of 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, funny, too . . . sometimes heart-stopping, in each of these short chapters, packed with intrigue, tension, all at perfect pitch.

Someone is always moiling with someone else; Farouk is being stupid again; Marcia saying never again with him --- and yet she can't stay away from him. Why, we ask ourselves, does she continue to want to be with this ninny? And, on top of that, we wonder how Marcia can make it through her days with the memory of creepy Uncle Linton . . . the old bastard who trapped her, she so young . . . .

But no, I'm not going to do any story telling. Let the author do that. Just know that Francis-Sharma knows how to serve up a dandy plot, as rambly as it is, and she's able to find comedy when everything's the worst of the worst.

And in the best, too.

Need I say can't-put-it-down?

Trust me.

Just one more quote. Farouk Karem, despite being a nightmare for Marcia (and those who love her, like this reader) is one of those 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, whose place is where dumb-bunny men of the island think that they have to go to find --- big galoots! --- their stupid dope, their idiot booze, their awful sex, stolen from anguished young women.

Morlock, Karem's boss, reminds us here exactly how small their island paradise 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 --- ignore the dialect, you'll figure it out soon enough: it's pure poetry --- a reviewer like me doesn't really have to do anything. No quick dry NYRB summary needed. Get it and you'll get it. My friend Anna read it and wanted, immediately, to call up author Francis-Sharma, tell her how much she loved it, and loved her . . . invited her to come visit . . . anytime: assuring her that if she ever came to town, we would roll up the sidewalks for her, give her a bang-up good party, celebrate her terrific ability to make characters live (and love and hate and do bad and doing great), characters down on the page in a way that so few others have ever figured out how to do. She's got the writer's hex.

They say Ms. Francis-Sharma is a lawyer in Maryland. Let us pray that she gets out of that trap soon enough, gives up on the Dark Profession as soon 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 down the line next, hoping Marcia doesn't get blindsided again, by that idiot Farouk, or any of the other idiots around him. Not again, please no. Give love a chance!

--- Pamela Wylie
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