The Pain Tree tells stories that speak to all aspects of Jamaican life. Among the characters we hear from are: poor folk making the best of past hardships (“Coal”); rich folk plotting future selfishness (“The Goodness of My Heart”); an old man, familiar with darkness, who discovers in foreign capitalism a force even he cannot control (“Boxed-In”); a young girl, uprooted to a new country, forced to shoulder her mother’s unspoken burdens in addition to her own (“Lollipop”). Bookending these are two powerful stories about the inextricability of home and history: in “The Pain Tree,” the protagonist comes to realize the love she has abandoned, and the pain she has left behind; in “Flying,” the lead character, searching for that which has been missing most of his life, comes home for good.
Senior navigates the hills and valleys of narrative with natural ease, interweaving thick strands of emotion and insight yet never losing sight of a story’s ebb and flow. Her Pain Tree is an engaging, thought-provoking read that transports readers fully to another place, where the unfamiliar and exciting clash and commingle with the universal.
“At every level of her stories’ constructions, Senior works deftly … dealing with open palms in the deep wells of remembrance, ancestry and a crosshatch of colonising scars, this fiction looks face-upwards to the mountains of multiple Jamaicas for hope, home and daily bread.”
“[Senior’s] prose is supple and ornate … there is technique aplenty.”
“[Its] voices are authentic – a variety of rhythms and cadences appear on the page – and Olive Senior pulls readers into quiet moments of transformation with considerable emotional intensity. Like Alice Munro’s stories, some are remarkably complex structurally … like Mavis Gallant’s short stories, these combine the engaged eye of a resident with the distanced eye of an observer … I read The Pain Tree twice (yes, twice!)”
“We read these stories fully expecting that we will meet our real selves along the way. We are not disappointed.”
“The magic of Olive Senior’s stories is that they weather time with uncommon power. In these collected short fictions, published and broadcast in various incarnations from the 1990s forward, the concerns of class, language, identity, and refuge reign, explored in prose that is all the more commanding for its subtle navigations.”