As Flies to Whatless Boys

Written by Robert Antoni
Review by Cecelia Holland

Sporting surely the funniest title of the year, As Flies to Whatless Boys is a kind of complex word game, a historical narrative in a lilting Caribbean accent, wrapped around with an oddball love story in a wild form of English that seems to create itself as it goes along. In between, snippets of contemporary records provide foils for both these linguistic inventions.

The narrative concerns the efforts of a crackpot British engineer, John Etzler, to found a colony in Trinidad in the West Indies based on a contraption he called the Satellite, which would use wind, sun, and water to do all the labor, freeing the people for more creative and spiritual activities. Willy Tucker, the teenaged boy who tells the story (many years later, to his own son), is more interested in a girl named Marguerite, who cannot speak, than he is in machines, but he has a keen eye and a quick wit. The way of telling the story softens the terror of colonists parked suddenly on an unknown shore and attacked by insects and disease. Etzler’s vision of a community freed from the burdens of labor drowns in harsh reality, but Antoni’s lusty language is worth the experience.