If you are the kind of person to judge books by their covers, then you might think you are in for a sun-filled fun-filled read in the land of always summer. But it only takes the first three pages for Here Comes the Sun to jolt you out of your fantasy. Nicole Dennis-Benn reaches beyond the escapism that the Jamaican beaches and countryside are known for, into the uncomfortable pillars that hold the famed holiday destination’s façade, and tells through the eyes of four black women a profoundly multi-layered unapologetic story.
Margot, 30 years old, beautiful with that sort of light-skinned blackness that makes her the ideal mistress material, has a seemingly good job at a resort in Montego Bay. Delores, her mother sells souvenirs to tourists. Thandi, younger sister and daughter to Margot and Delores respectively is the investment on which the older women’s efforts are based on, sacrifices that will one day be paid pack. “Tenfold.” Verdene, disgraced as a child and still the object of River Bank’s contempt, is Margot’s secret love interest.
“God No Like Ugly,” arguably the best title I have ever read, is an apt introduction into such a remarkable novel. But asides the obvious hauntingly beautiful prose and luminous dialogue, Nicole Dennis-Benn’s superpower is her character building. The main cast consists of non-linear characters, none of which you can describe as completely evil or completely good. While her sentences can be fancy and alluring, the character arcs are anything but. They all have to survive – the only thing they have ever known. They all make problematic, yet necessary choices. You are allowed to hate certain characters and yet love some, but there is ample room for nuance.
Perhaps what really makes Here Comes the Sun such a wonder to read is how Dennis-Benn allows each character deal with their issues. Passionate Margot is a woman on a mission, to end the life of suffering she has always known and is ready to do anything for it. Delores values comfort over love, yearns for financial freedom and will sacrifice anyone for it, and has justification for all her actions no matter how dehumanizing. I have never read a character with better—or worse—gaslighting traits. Thandi, sheltered from these harsh realities wants acceptance and lighter skin. Verdene seeks salvation from a harrowing past and requited love in the present. They all share a common history: abuse.
With dark histories that all characters have to contend with at some point, Dennis-Benn illustrates with surreptitious torture the weight of expectations that Thandi, easily the most companionable character in the book, is made to bear, being seen largely as an investment. It does not end well. As with every other aspect of Here Comes The Sun, even her relationship with Margot and Charles, the only people she thinks truly cares about her, is complicated. When secrets start to unravel, they unfold to disastrous consequences. The last words Margot says to Thandi towards the end still leaves chills running the whole length of my back.
In Here Comes the Sun, paradise is a paradox, and under the searing heat, Jamaica is both hell and paradise. Dennis-Benn does not shy away on throwing subliminals at colorism, racism classism, and homophobia—in River Bank, stories of lesbians being burnt inside their house are not deemed worthy of front pages. No-one mourns the death of these women but rejoice in karma’s just judgments. “For what can women who refuse the loving of men expect?”
About the Reviewer
Ama Udofa is the editorial manager of SynCity NG. Also a graduate of Biochemistry, yet, having been enchanted by remarkable storytelling, he has decided to pursue a lifelong romance with the craft. He mostly writes and edits marketing and critical content for a living freelance, and dabbles in literary stuff at his spare time. He is a recipient of the Igby Prize for Nonfiction, has been longlisted in The Writivism Short Story Prize, and recently earned an honorable mention at the 2019 Icelandic Writers Retreat Alumni Award. He has work in Brittle Paper, African Writer, Kalahari Review, AFREADA, Praxis Magazine Online, First Culture, and The Bagus. He hosts RHYTHMIFY, a periodic performance poetry concert at his alma mater and is currently at work on Safe Landing, a short story collection on gender and the self. When he’s not writing or reading, he’s pining over women he will never have a chance with. Twitter and Instagram: @the_amazingama