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No Telephone to Heaven by Michelle Cliff (Dutton: $16.95; 186 pp.) : Sting of the Bee by Seth Rolbein (St. Martin's: $16.95; 256 pp.)

September 06, 1987|Joy Williams | Williams, a short-story writer, is also the author of "Florida Keys: A History and Guide" (Random House).

Well, he is seduced by it. He decides not to return to his librarian's job and his sweet girlfriend. A librarian's job and a sweet girlfriend, after all. . . . He decides to cash in his plane ticket back to Boston and buy fence wire. He decides to keep the family farm, the mahogany trees, the honey bees. He ends up sitting around with his new friends, giggling "from him belly out," spitting grapefruit seeds into the raindrops--living in the present, mon. This is an upbeat ending. This is as it should be in this mean and mechanized world. Unfortunately, this transformation on Marty's part is due in part to Miz Pamela's famous mushroom tea. It's woody and musky and "the more he drank, the more he like the taste."

It's a little disconcerting actually, this lapse into the talk, the walk (follow the brightest trail, mon), but it does have its dignity. The funeral scene when the father is borne to the top of a beautiful hill is produced with dignified flourishes. Bees sting the father's mouth and eyes and fall into the coffin with him--bee stings being a sure Jamaican omen of good luck to come. No one goes into anaphylactic shock in this Jamaica, least of all the dead. Good luck abounds. Grace is conferred on those who live in the present, who love their land, who are made strong by their world. It sounds nice. Home--an imagined, idealized place, perhaps, this Jamaican world of "Sting of the Bee." Certainly one closed to the tortured characters of "No Telephone to Heaven." And to others, to be sure.

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