by Anthony C. Winkler
In reading the hilarious Dog War by Jamaican writer Anthony C. Winkler, I’ve discovered my new favorite author. His writing is fresh and funny, thoroughly Jamaican, and satirically witty.
What does a 47-year old woman do with herself when she is suddenly widowed and on her own? Having depended on her cranky, head-strong, beloved husband Theophilus for so long, Precious Higginson is fearful of a life without him. Deeply religious, she spends a lot of time under her bed asking Jamaican Jesus for guidance and not to drop anymore tin cans ‘pon her head. Certain that raping, murdering beasts will slay her in her bed, she can no longer live in the isolated home on the top of the peak that Theophilus insisted they move to. The only thing to do is take up her children’s offers to live with them, get to know her grandchildren and bide her time.
Unfortunately, Precious’s children are married. At her son’s house in Kingston is “the wife,” humorless, strict, “with an unbridled appetite for discipline and scrimping,” who rules a roost where sugar is considered as bad as rat poison. When Precious moves in, there are “two women under one roof: one loves pudding, the other loves bone,” so she quickly moves on to her daughter’s house in Miami.
At first Precious finds America “vast, strange, and bizarre” and cannot stop gaping at its exotic newness. First, the American son-in-law Henry is a too-too wretch: “You could not say he was too this or too that because if you did you would seem an ungrateful wretch.” Back in Jamaica, would Theophilus have ever cleaned the house, baked pies, earned his living cutting and styling women’s hair, or washed out his mother-in-law’s underwear? That doesn’t mean Henry doesn’t appreciate women, including his mother-in-law. With no more children to turn to, there’s nothing for Precious to do but get a job and learn to become independent; then, she finds out how strange America really is.
Another thing Precious learns along the way is that she’s not a dried-up widow but that men still find her to be “fat and juicy” – first Henry, the too-too wretch; then Mannish Chaudhuri, the factotum of her new employer, an incredibly wealthy Fort Lauderdale widow; Riccardo, a horny poodle; and finally the handsome widowed pastor. In Fort Lauderdale, Precious learns about the rich and their fool-fool ways. In fact, the time Precious spends in America teaches Precious many things which she forms into her own philosophy of life. Among the things she learns is that everyone is defenseless against the tin can that might drop ‘pon the head.
Winkler explores themes of culture clash, social clash, widowhood, and self-discovery and brings them full circle with Precious back on her Jamaican peak, no longer fearful of the world of wretched beasts. He does so with humor, sympathy, sex and the skill of a gifted writer.