Publication Date: October 14, 2015
In The Untold Unlocking Of Secrets by James Jean-Pierre, A young man comes of age in Haiti. He chronicles his experiences as a mostly free-range child to adulthood and immigration.
The author gave me a copy of this novel in exchange for my review.
The Untold Unlocking Of Secrets is uncomfortable to read. Told in a very matter-of-fact style, the narrator doesn’t gloss over the worst of the young subjects’ experiences. Jean-Pierre paints a landscape view of growing up in Haiti with a mother that raises her children mostly with a brutal hand and an absentee father who descends from his home in the U.S. like a celebrity raining U.S. $1.
The narrator has a near pathological obsession with sex. While an early chapter, Childhood Addiction chronicles the depth of his problem — really, the overriding theme of the memoir is his inability to deal with sex and interpersonal relationships in a mature manner. He seems mostly to have been raised free range and so doesn’t fit well into societal expectations. Don’t get me wrong, some people flourish away from the approval of the public but that doesn’t seem to have been the case for our young narrator. He uses people to his own end and not very artfully. His successful relationships seem more a function of the similar immaturity of his partner than that he is doing things in a productive manner. While our narrator isn’t especially likable, Jean-Pierre seems to make a link between the implied brutality of his custodial parent and his stunted interactions. One of the more telling indications of this is when the narrator passes gas during sex and expects to be beaten.
Terrible things happen in The Untold Unlocking Of Secrets that are conveyed to the reader without equivocation or regret. In a chapter titled Childhood Addiction, the narrator tells of the rape of a young cousin saying that the 6- or 7-year-old didn’t protest so he didn’t realize it was wrong. The statement is not made in a seeming bid for absolution but a matter of fact statement to add to his list of wrong-doings. Readers may wonder where the adults are until it becomes clear that the narrator is caught before the deed is done and beaten soundly in front of his relatives. Instead of feeling empathy for the young cousin and the terror she must have felt, his young mind reverts to his mother and the impact his deed surely had on her and the family name.
Some of the anecdotal stories are really interesting. Jean-Pierre paints a solid picture of the Haitian superstition while underlining the practical nature. The narrator’s father is visiting when they hear an unexplained scratching. The father swears it’s a vampire but when he swings his machete in panic, it turns out to have been a cat. The purpose of the cat once dispatched, is as food for the family though, to add a new tally mark to the narrator’s list of sins, he consumes the meat before it can be shared.
There are some consistency problems in The Untold Unlocking Of Secrets. As an example, in one paragraph the narrator says that he never spoke with Johnson’s father again and in the next paragraph Samone is coming home from the hospital and Johnson’s father shouts to him and he shouts back. The narration style is inelegant but effective. Readers looking for a solid ending will be disappointed. There will clearly be future installments in the telling of the narrator’s journey.
There are things people never talk about and usually for good reason. Jean-Pierre manages to bring those things forward giving them an explanation of sorts if never an excuse. If you like tales of authentic human lives, check this one out.
You can read an excerpt and buy The Untold Unlocking of Secrets by James Jean-Pierre on