24 June 2011

Blogging the Caine Prize: "In the Spirit of McPhineas Lata"

(This is the latest in a weekly series of posts about the short stories nominated for this year's Caine Prize for African Writing. For more information, see my introductory post. The other posts about this story so far can be read at: Method to the Madness, Zunguzungu, and The Oncoming Hope. To keep up with it all, follow the Twitter hashtag #cainepr.)

Lauri Kubuitsile's "In the Spirit of McPhineas Lata" (PDF) is a delightful little story about, among other things, sex. The story is written in the style and manner of a comic folktale, its characters cartoonish and its situations amusingly absurd. Though sex is the topic of the story, at its heart this is a tale of equilibrium lost and regained -- just about the most surefire and time-tested template for comedy.

I'm wary of saying much about this one, because it would feel a bit like trying to explain a joke, and explaining jokes is the quickest way to kill them. Certainly, there's a bit to say about the gender and labor relations in the story, there's a bit to say about the attitudes toward marriage and sex (the husbands are not, it seems, angry with McPhineas Lata because he is sleeping with their wives -- instead, they're relieved he's dead because he had such better lovemaking technique than they had and thus put them to shame; this is a refreshing change of pace from the jealous, pathological monogamy that fills the majority of stories we read and see), and there's even a bit to say, perhaps, about this being a story in the form of an African folktale by an American-born white African (I'm not the person to do that, though, being a white American with no expertise in folktales, African or otherwise).

But this doesn't seem to me to be a particularly ambitious or complex story, and I think that's its strength, and what makes it by far my favorite of the Caine Prize stories we've read so far. It's nice to read a Caine story that's humorous, and it's nice to read a Caine story that's not ponderous, thumping realism -- it's nice to read a story that has a sense of play in its plot, its form, and its language. Of the stories we've read so far, this is the first one I can imagine handing to somebody else and saying, "Hey, read this, it's worth the time."

So, hey. Read it. It's worth the time.