Picks and Pans Review: My Brother

updated 10/20/1997 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/20/1997 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Jamaica Kincaid

Jamaica Kincaid has built a top-drawer literary reputation through the painful strip-mining of her family history. In The Autobiography of My Mother and other works, the Antigua, West Indies-born author (who now lives in Vermont) has employed what her mother, whose parenting skills are terminally dissected, refers to as long memory. Here Kincaid sifts through the life of her younger brother Devon Drew, who died of AIDS in 1996 at 33. The first of the book's two parts recounts Devon's last year, when Kincaid returns to Antigua to visit him and deal with the looming presence of Mom. "My mother loves her children I want to say, in her way!" Kincaid writes, despairingly, of the woman's domineering, suffocating manner. "It never has occurred to her that her way of loving us might not be the best thing for us." The second part begins with Devon's dying and includes revelations of a shadow existence as a gay man. Kincaid's prose is, as always, meticulous—the emotions scalding, the declarations harsh. But she triumphs here by transforming tortured memory into emancipating elegy. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $19)

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