A Million Aunties by Alecia McKenzie


I think it was the New York Times review that took me to this book. It was pleasant to be transported to Jamaica where we meet the loving Auntie Della. Christopher, a young artist recently bereaved was sent to her by his agent Stephen who had been plucked out of an orphanage by her when he was young. With her healing care, especially those hearty breakfasts, Christopher broadens his  horizon to include painting the flowers that are everywhere and is able to do some household repairs Miss Della needs. Christopher’s mother had grown up on the island, and he remembered meeting his mother’s uncle when they visited the island. It turns out that his Great Uncle Alton is an artist too and has stories for Christopher about his mother.

Along the way we hear from Christopher’s father, who gets a chapter to tell his story himself; Stephen, who makes good things happen for everyone else; Féliciane, the French heiress who came to New York to make the kind of art she preferred; Miss Pretty, a damaged soul seen walking daily in her fur coat and who believes Stephen is her son. And there are more. They all become an intentional family. Below is a conversation between Stephen and Jasmine, a trans woman.

“So, what does your girlfriend do?” she [Jasmine] inquired as they left the restaurant.

“Oh, she’s an artist like you. Installations though. She’s French.”

“Ooh la la,” Jasmine mocked. He smiled at her, wondering if he should add that his “girlfriend” lived with someone else and that his “mother” and aunt were. . .He didn’t know where to begin.

The group of nine made a trip to Europe, landing first in Paris. On their first morning there, while others are recovering from their flight, Christopher makes an impressive tour to see some notable tourist sites and two galleries, the Orangerie and the Musée d’Orsay. And he was just a little late to get back to meet the others for lunch, but that intentional family was pretty relaxed.

I found the unusual stories of these folks to be a bit flat.

Alecia McKenzie, A Million Aunties, Blouse & Skirt Books and Akashic Books, 2020, 196 pages. Available at the public library.

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