Uncle Obadiah and the Alien

Written by Vladimir Barac, Susan Wanlass for The Caribbean Writer on

Geoffrey Philp’s book contains eleven stories, one-third of which originally appeared in The Caribbean Writer, ranging in length from 6 to 27 pages. The setting of the first six stories is the writer’s native Jamaica; three are set in Florida; and the final two return to the original island setting.
Although Philp’s stories are occasionally lacking in clearly delineated characterization and theme development, the island stories are distinguished by much more vivid narration and dialogue than those set in Florida. The island stories are, for the most part, narrated in the vernacular while the state-side stories, narrated in Standard English, appear rather stilted, melodramatic, and humorless in comparison.

Despite the shortcomings specified, Philp’s stories could enjoy particular popularity with transplanted Jamaicans and other West Indians overseas, for nostalgia is a powerful motive in audience satisfaction. Thus, the title story (which was published in The Caribbean Writer in 1995), involves the crash-landing on the narrator’s uncle’s 'herb field' of a DWI alien - who happens to be an ex-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher look-alike clone - promises to delight those who remember the 'iron lady’s' antagonism against West Indians and other Blacks in Britain and elsewhere. The story also features the themes of cloning and the distinction between appearance and reality. In reality, Jah lives. Haile Selassie did not die; his look-alike was executed by the Ethiopian junta. But 'the King of Kings' is alive, ruling another planet. For it was He who ordered the alien’s landing in Uncle Obadiah’s field, containing the only known antidote to the plague of Maggy Thatcherism, 'the best marijuana in this galaxy.'

Second is the story of 'Softers', in which the narrator succeeds in overcoming the intimidation of his apparently more powerful competitors by ending up in bed with the woman they had all been fighting over, which makes him 'feel like the biggest man in the world.' The following three island stories are concerned with the generation-gap and conflicts based on differences in class, color, and culture. Thus, 'Curly Locks' relates the adolescent narrator’s problems with living up to the conflicting standards of middle-class respectability and Rastafarian righteousness. While his uncle’s and his girlfriend’s father’s ideas of respectability involve his appearance in a three-piece suit, his Rasta friend persuades him to provide himself with dreadlocks for the anticipated Bob Marley concert. By opting for the pragmatic compromise of putting on his locks temporarily, only to wash them out after the concert, he however, ends up violating the rules of both cultures.

The last story 'The River', which won The Canute A. Brodhurst Prize when it appeared in The Caribbean Writer in 1992, features gang warfare and political corruption resulting from competition in the marijuana trade. It ends with the narrator’s prevention of an ecstatic, drug-possessed youngster’s religious drowning in the river with no name. Some symbolism may be suggested here, but this is not quite clear.
Taken altogether, this is an uneven collection. It may not be surprising that the stories set in the Caribbean - Philp is originally from Jamaica, now living in Florida - which utilize the vernacular are more convincing in character development and plot. It is these stories one remembers and for which one should read this collection.