By Breanne McIvor
(Illustration by Timothy Greene)
A review by editor Dylan Dartnell
I am sure no one remembers their first crush with much fondness. In fact, I am even more certain that those are memories we all suppressed until it was safe to laugh about without feeling the sting of regret. Establishing relationships as adults are hard enough as it is, let alone trying to work through them with the added baggage of being a teenager.
Breanne Mc Ivor, the winner of The Caribbean Writer’s David Hough Literary Prize (2015), pulls together the dreaded anxiety we now remember all too well and captures it in the tormented Marcus; torn between maintaining an illusion that might intrigue his crush, Ophelia, into a coffee date whilst keeping his destitute family life unknown.
But Ophelia explores more than the typical love story between the beautiful and popular high school starlet and the boy she hasn’t noticed (yet). Mc Ivor sets the narrative in the canyon between the lifestyle comforts of the middle class and the instincts necessary for survival in the ghettos: “I push my hands into my pockets and look down. I know I can’t look left or right. If someone is on the lookout for witnesses, I shouldn’t appear too curious.” This short story engulfs the pressures of a first crush in the reality of gang violence and the enslavement to the taskmaster of hand-to-mouth poverty.
Despite the unsettling themes and tone of the narrative, Ophelia flows with an enchanting poetic rhythm; a compliment to the use of the delicate and unobtrusive syntax. The first-person perspective, alone, provides the reader with enough insight to be able to empathise with Marcus and the incessant barrels of unfortunate disappointment the character experiences.
It’s not enough to describe Marcus as an underdog and the reader would do better than to hope for a happy ending. McIvor has used Ophelia to portray a tragically authentic story disrupts the comforts—and ignorance—of life outside of the white-picket fence and the fantastical life we have grown to dream for ourselves.
Ophelia by Breanne McIvor can be read here.