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Slipstream: A Daughter Remembers

by Rachel Manley

Rachel Manley’s Slipstream: A Daughter Remembers is perilously similar to Drumblair: Memories of a Jamaican Childhood, for which she won a Governor General’s Award. The new book presents a conundrum: without having read Drumblair, readers will be lost as to the cast of players. But those who’ve read the earlier book are likely to wonder why Manley tells the same story again, often in similar words.
Slipstream is a loose account of the life and death of Michael Manley, Jamaica’s long-standing prime minister, interwovenwith his daughter’s memories of him and her own life in Jamaica. One problem, though, is that Rachel was raised by her grandparents, whom she writes about extensively in both books. Her knowledge of her father is limited, though her love and respect for him are palpable. Here she redescribes her early years with Mardi and Pardi (her grandparents) and moves between past and present without much pattern. Slipstream moves Manley’s story further along in time than its predecessor did, but many sections have the feel of filler.
The prose is mainly serviceable, but occasionally Manley hits a perfect note with figurative language: “My heart had three cities: Pardi, Mardi and Daddy. Pardi and Mardi were interchangeable neighbours, cities in the same province, the secure heartland of grandparents. But Daddy was a lone city, a single culture with its own province; it was like a place one visited, with plans and a ticket and a travel bag and a toothbrush in a plastic case so dust and hairs wouldn’t touch it.”
For Rachel, such a tenuous connection with a father results in adulation, and in retreat from potential anger. Even when Michael “pursues” his daughter’s friends, her response is curiously muted: “Part of me enjoyed the power I imagined this gave me; another part was secretly uncomfortable.” The author then drops the issue, thereby losing the opportunity to explore either her own or her father’s feelings. Diffidence is a curious quality in a memoir, and Manley would have had a more successful and engaging book to offer if she had wrestled more with her story, chopping the repetitive portions and delving unflinchingly into the rest.