When I said sometimes debuts sometimes feel definitively debut, I think I meant there’s a very skillful voice here that might be punching a little bit above its weight, but the skill is real, the sentiment is interesting, and the novel captures a lot, but there’s the tiniest sliver of weightlessness here. I have found Esi Edugyan’s later novels to have more heft and gravity.
Sometimes a debut novel definitively feels like a debut novel, and this one does. Samuel Tyne is a man approaching middle age when he finds out this his uncle (a more or less wealthy man living in a small town) has died and left him his farm. Samuel unilaterally decides to quit his job (his wife would have wanted to know this) and move his family to that small town. Samuel was born in Gold Coast (Ghana) and is now living in western Canada and finds through conversation with friends and neighbors that his very presence creates a pressure that they feel compelled to deal with. This isn’t the outright antagonistic hatred plenty of other people have felt (Samuel is well-equipped with skill and education, and therefore isn’t a “burden” on the state), but it’s still something. So Samuel tries to find his path in life in this town, while also trying to figure out what kind of life he wants. There’s some elements of A House for Mr Biswas in this book, along with some Evelyn Waugh (maybe that’s just the hat talking), and some White Teeth.