I loved everything about the novella ‘Ishmael Toffee’ (US). Was drawn in by the voice and the subject immediately.
Ishmael’s just out of prison. He’s a killer who suddenly tired of killing. Whilst watching his back in the cells, he discovered a new freedom in the form of gardening, a new connection with the earth and the way things might be. He’s hard, poor and covered in tattoos.
His rehabilitation is to be encouraged by work – a job in the garden of a rich, white man in the luxurious settings of a mightily secure house where only the help has colour to their skin.
There’s a snake in the garden, mind. Family life is not all it should be. Ishmael knows that what’s happening is wrong, but he also knows that trying to help will get him in to no end of trouble. It’s a question of whether the old or the new Ishmael is going to show up and I’m not going to tell you how it shapes up.
It’s a fantastic piece of fiction which deals with the injustices of poverty, the inequities of the world, the stark realities of life and death. The prose is sharp and clinical, yet there’s a heart beating through it all the way along, a hope that warmth and fairness might rise above the setting and the situation no matter how farfetched that seems at times. It does get tough – gruelling material at which the writer shows his class instead of flinching away.
By year’s end, this book is going to shine out as one of my favourites. There’s no doubt about it.
Very highly recommended.