From the Archives: Jacket…or Full Suit?

From time to time I’ve pulled and posted past published pieces that may be of interest to readers here. This piece was previously published in the Daily Observer newspaper circa some time in 2011. It concerns the book named in the title and as the book hasn’t expired, neither has this article (minus the event date). So, here it is:

By Joanne C. Hillhouse

When UWI Open Campus principal Ian Benn called to ask me to read and do a write-up on Sonia King’s book Jacket…or Full Suit?Suit ahead of the March 8th launch, I told him the truth: I wouldn’t have time to do more than scan it. See, there are many unread books on my shelf, several given to me by authors for review; there for lack of time. So, when I picked up the book I wasn’t hopeful of doing much more than a cursory scan. That was Thursday evening. I actually cracked the book fore day morning Saturday and was done, cover-to-cover, by Saturday night even with all of the running around I had to do that day. This isn’t just a credit to the slimness of the 110 page book, though that helped. But who would’ve thought a book sub-titled ‘Paternity Testing from a Jamaican Perspective’ would have been such a page turner. If my enjoyment of this book proves anything, it’s probably that much as I try to mind my own business, I love melee as much as the next person. And this is just the kind of humorous, gossipy tome to feed that guilty pleasure.

King, who worked for more than three decades as a researcher in the Pathology Department at UWI, was smart enough to hook me, the reader, first with the titillating human drama before explaining the finer details of the science. Frankly, even when she finally got around to the science, I probably absorbed about as much of it as the hapless ‘couples’ who found themselves in her lab for testing; but the reading of it, unlike the experience of finding out whether you were being fitted for a jacket or a full suit, was quick and painless.

I should note that juicy as the tales are, breezy as the tone is, as much as King in her recollections comes across as a more buttoned down version of In Living Colour’s Ms. Benita gossip, a counterpoint to the reserve and stoicism she evinces in her actual interaction with the various parties, it seeps in every now and again that there is real heartbreak involved in some of these stories.

The case of the 40 something year old man who was being tested as a visa requirement only to discover that his father – “mi born an’ see him” – was not, in fact, his father, and who became suicidal as a result is one of those times when, as a reader, the guilt outpaces the pleasure.

Still, all in all, it’s an enjoyable read and a reminder of the groundbreaking work done in the Caribbean, and Jamaica in particular, in this field; standing up to the numerous challenges faced by critics – from test subjects reluctant to accept the results, to lawyers overcompensating for lack of evidence with aggressiveness and bluster, to ‘superior’ U.S. labs.

King emerges as quite the impressive specimen, one who – as the last few pages of the  book, especially, reveals – has personality and vigor and enough life experience for maybe a very readable personal memoir.

Until then, this book which for all its revelations does its best to shield the identities of the actual characters involved, will have to suffice.

There’s the tale of the couple whose story actually inspired the book’s title. The wife and husband, married many years, came for paternity testing, after a casual comment raised suspicion about an outside son the husband had long accepted as his own. When the testing proved that he was not the father, “the husband remarked, ‘Miss King, dat a no jacket! Dat a full suit!!!’”

There was the case of the famous DJ’s paramour who offered a bribe for the desired outcome. The offer was rebuffed. “Early the next morning, she called and I was not pleased. She told me that the DJ’s brother was outside her apartment; he was armed and coming to the lab to see me.”

Who knew paternity testing could be that dangerous and exciting?

One melee erupted when a wife turned up at the lab to support her husband who was being tested in light of a paternity claim, her very presence raising the ire of the baby-mother who proceeded to tell her off in very graphic terms causing her to flee the scene and setting off a physical altercation between the husband and his mistress that had pipettes flying and brought security running.

As the book reveals people are often in denial, even about their own past behavior.  “Because of you Miss King my child is going to be without milk,” one woman cried. “I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU SAY BUT I KNOW. I’VE NEVER HAD ANOTHER MAN. You and your test must be wrong. I’m going to be out of a home and my child is going to be without milk all because you don’t know what you doing.” Turns out King did know what she was doing.

The blood never lies.

Just ask the man who had suspicions about the paternity of baby number five and decided to have all children tested only to discover that baby number five was his; but baby number three wasn’t.

The various reasons people came for or tried to get out of testing are dramas in themselves, and the claims for or against, surreal to say the least. One university student insisted he couldn’t be the father “because he had been with the woman only once”; smart enough to be accepted into university, but apparently not smart enough to understand the basics of reproduction.

The launch of Sonia King’s Jacket…or Full Suit? is set for the University Centre on Factory Road, Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.

As with every thing else printed here, do not reproduce in whole without permission nor re-post in part without linking and crediting.

 

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