I have just read the third story short listed for the Caine Prize – ‘What Molly Knew’ by Tim Keegan and I am a little baffled. Am I missing something here?
I must be, because what I have read was a rather bad story. It is about a bad abusing stepfather and a mother that can’t stand up for her own daughter. There is nothing in the story to save it from this corny cliché, not even the ‘African twist’ being that the daughter went off and married a black man, which in post apartheid South Africa is still a no-no.
The mother and the stepfather make it clear they think that the husband is the bad guy because he is one of ‘those people’ (“they say he’s half Portuguese, but he’s more black than white”) but the narrator makes it clear it is the stepfather who is the bad guy because he drinks and he is aggressive. If the cliché premise wasn’t enough, there is also bad writing. There is too much telling and not enough showing. The characters come across as stereotypical caricatures taken out from a Nora Roberts novel. The only surprising thing about it is how unsurprising it is. You start reading and think ‘I can see where this is going’ but then you think ‘well, it can’t be, it was nominated and all, so I am sure the author is fooling me into believing I know where it is going’. But no, it is actually going where you think it is going. Meh.
It pretends to be a detective story, as the daughter in question has been murdered. The police and the mother will think it is the black husband, you know, because he is black and they are racist like most white people in South Africa. But, of course, it is not the husband. Who could it be?
On page two appears the stepfather. Keegan describes him through the mother’s point of view: “Alright, Rollo wasn’t perfect: he drank too much; he stayed out at night playing darts at Wally’s Bat in Koeberg Road; he’d visited prostitutes in his time, had girlfriends. And he had a temper, used his fists when he was boozed up, used foul language. The neighbours had sometimes called the police in. But what was she supposed to do?” Keegan hopes it is clear now who the bad guy is. He copy-pasted that from “Evil Stepfather” template for bad literature. And you know what else bad stepfathers do? You know, except for drinking, going to whorehouses, swearing and beating family members. Yeah, they do one more thing. Oh great, you know now, you have just spoil the ending for yourself. And what do submissive mothers do with such a bad stepfather? That’s right. Nothing. Shocker.