This is the fourth review from the Caine Prize blog-athon, and I’m glad you’re still with me. The story the crew is reading/reviewing this week is “In the Spirit of McPhineas Lata” by Lauri Kubuitsile from Botswana. You can and should find the story as a pdf here, and you can find the other bloggers’ thoughts at the bottom of the post.
This story is, when it’s all said and done, a really fun read. It’s a very interesting set-up and a fun story with comedic characters doing absurd things. It’s fun. The story is about sex, but it’s also about society and sex’s role in that society. It’s a pretty interesting take on the whole thing, providing an interesting and fun look at how men and women interact in this village. Plot summary: the village ladykiller dies (while performing one of his duties, fittingly), and the village responds in probably the weirdest way possible.
What’s interesting is the way the society had been set up in the first place. The men spend all of their time working in order to give their wives better lives, and the women are all greedy and mean to their husbands. While the men work a lot and are not good at pleasing their wives, McPhineas Lata doesn’t really have a job (nor a wife for whom to provide), but he’s mighty good at pleasing everyone else’s wives. Somehow, the town has adapted to this fact – it’s how the society works. Lata’s actions kept women satisfied so that men could keep working. The first lines of the story explain this: it’s not the rampant adultery that is causing a strain in relationships between couples, it’s the death of Lata that causes a rift between the two sexes.
And so, with Lata’s death, the story begins. After the burial, the women decide to go about humping his grave while the men commiserate over beer and try to figure out how to have sex right. The men’s decision is one of the more out-of-place reactions: they turn it into a science experiment – or, if you want to, they turn it into work. The men divide the labor amongst them and start trying things out when the women aren’t mourning Lata’s death, discussing successes (like three-minute massage of the shoulder) and failures (like attempting to milk a breast) at the local bar. The men methodically figure out how to please their wives and replace the vibrant memory of McPhineas Lata. It’s also worth noting that sex is continually referred to as “the business,” another reference to the men’s affinity for doing work instead of sex. In a similar vein, throughout the story no one is ever seen… working.
If the men’s response to use the scientific method to improve sex is funny, what’s even funnier is that the women immediately know that something is afoot when their husbands begin to try things, and many simply play along to see where it’s going. Their final response is to see that their old lover is continuing his tricks through their husbands, and the women take it in stride. Lata’s lifestyle was what held the society together, and his death caused a huge problem for the men and the women. Interestingly, the men and women find the silliest ways to reshape their relationships to make things work. And you can finish the story with a laugh, reassured that everything was okay.