'Til the Well Runs Dry
Debut novelist Lauren Francis-Sharma made a pilgrimage to her grandmother’s birthplace, Blanchisseuse --- a tiny beach hamlet nestled into the windward side of Trinidad’s northern mountains. There she was amazed by the natural beauty of the temperate clime and its flora and fauna. Taking in island life like a dwindling rose takes in water after a long dry spell, Francis-Sharma realized that this was the perfect setting for a story about both the island itself and the life her grandmother lived on it. ’TIL THE WELL RUNS DRY is a delicious and compelling dramatic tribute to the women of her family and all that is and was Trinidad.
The novel concerns a young woman, a 16-year-old named Marcia Garcia, who is a seamstress. She is the caretaker for two young boys and the guardian of a family secret so devastating that she considers it her birthright to protect it. Then all hell breaks loose. Farouk Karam, a young policeman on the island, falls madly in love with her, and they tumble together through a history of love, scandal and a future that may or may not hold the key to revealing the secret that ultimately could destroy every good thing they have built for themselves.
"I’m a sucker for any story that incorporates the place as a character, as an important cog in the wheel of the narrative. ’TIL THE WELL RUNS DRY does just that, and Trinidad appears to us, bold and forthright, on every page."
Marcia’s ability to love Farouk, the boys, her family’s secret and the island, and all its inherent mystery, makes her a deep and provocative protagonist for this story. There is a psychological depth to her that one doesn’t necessarily find in too many immigrant tales; she is feisty and strong, but thoughtful and well aware of the toll that her secret could play in the lives of those she touches. The story runs across several decades, weaving the various years and deepening cultural changes into a brilliant quilt that becomes a homage to brave and bold Marcia Garcia.
The fact that Francis-Sharma was inspired to write this story based on her grandmother’s life because she herself wanted to fill a void she felt in her own family, the lack of knowledge about their personal Trinidadian history in the beautiful small town of Blanchisseuse, makes ’TIL THE WELL RUNS DRY even more stirring. Trying to imagine a real woman growing up and old under such extreme and magical circumstances helps the reader form an even more intense appreciation of all that Marcia goes through in her journeys.
There are actually three protagonists here --- Marcia, Farouk, and Marcia’s daughter, Jackie. Each of them takes turns telling this rich story, and they come off like a literary version of the Staples Singers, a family act that defies exact definition and finds harmony in the worst parts of life, but gives the listener the sense that they have found the answer to some big question about how to live life just by keeping on and moving forward as the times demand. How they do that without losing their inner light is one of the most interesting questions this novel answers.
I’m a sucker for any story that incorporates the place as a character, as an important cog in the wheel of the narrative. ’TIL THE WELL RUNS DRY does just that, and Trinidad appears to us, bold and forthright, on every page. It is the perfect backdrop for such a sensual and emotional life as these characters enjoy together. Francis-Sharma’s debut draws you in, and the feelings it evokes stay with you long after you put it down.
Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on April 3, 2014