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The Painted Canoe is a novel by Jamaican writer Anthony Winkler, which was published in 1984.

Zachariah Pelsie is an extremely ugly fisherman who lives in the community of Charity Bay. One day, while out fishing as usual, he dozes off...and when he wakes up, he finds himself far away from shore. He must now make his way back to land in his canoe, battling the elements, hunger and thirst, a man-eating hammerhead shark, and his own troubled memories.

Meanwhile, back on land, his family and neighbors have varying reactions to his disappearance. As he travels on the sea, Zachariah reflects on his relationships with each of them, and on how he will relate to them when he finally returns.

The Painted Canoe was Winkler's first novel, and is stated to be his favorite.

Tropes present in The Painted Canoe:

  • Abusive Parents: Carina is this toward her older son George. The narrative informs us that this is because he was born too soon after the death of Carina and Zachariah's first child.
    • Zachariah's mother was this way toward him as well, from what we see of his flashbacks to his childhood.
  • Ax Crazy: Dr. Archibald Richardson. The villagers refer to him as "the mad English doctor."
  • Bad Boss: Dr. Richardson.
  • Bad Dreams: Zachariah suffers from these during his time stranded at sea.
  • Badass: Zachariah uses a fishing spear to blind the shark that's been dogging him.
  • Big Bad: The doctor, yet again.
  • Bigger Is Better in Bed: Zachariah is...rather well-equipped, as Carina discovers during her seduction of him in one of his flashbacks.
  • Butt Monkey: Mr. Lewis, the local shopkeeper, is frequently beaten up by his wife.
  • Calling The Old Woman Out: Zachariah recalls that he wanted to do this to his mother for all her abuse of him in his childhood, but he refrained from doing this because she was sickly and (though he didn't know it then) in her last moments.
  • Character Development: Several characters develop this as a result of Zachariah's experience at sea.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Zachariah's vow never to ask God for anything unless he's at death's door.
  • Comedic Sociopathy: Mrs. Lewis's abuse of her husband. It's supposed to be funny.
  • Dead Little Sister: George and Wilfred, Zachariah and Carina's sons, have a dead older sister, who died while in infancy.
  • Deadly Doctor: Dr. Richardson. Almost.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Zachariah and Dr. Richardson qualify. There's also Dr. Richardson's nursing assistant.
  • Death Seeker: Dr. Richardson.
  • The Determinator: Zachariah.
  • Does Not Like Men: Carina is distrustful of men up to when she first meets Zachariah, due to having Rape as Backstory.
  • Driven to Suicide: The doctor.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Dr. Richardson, yet again.
  • Embarrassing First Name: The constable admits having one to the doctor during their mutual Christmas celebration, and in fact he says it's not a name he is proud of. It's Marion.
  • Everything's Even Worse with Sharks: The hammerhead shark that tails Zachariah in his canoe. Also, Zachariah recalls that in the past, one shark attacked a sea-stranded friend, Seahorse, and took off his leg, and another shark devoured another friend, Seddie, and left his wife a widow and his child fatherless.
  • Flat Earth Atheist: Dr. Richardson is this taken Up to Eleven.
  • Foe Yay: Dr. Richardson becomes rather...unhealthily attached to Zachariah while treating him for his cancer. The doctor's mistress points it out with much disdain.
  • Good People Have Good Sex: Zachariah and Carina.
  • Groin Attack: Carina threatens to cut off the Parson’s “business” if he comes back to her house and says one more bad thing to Zachariah. Also, Zachariah recalls that she subjected him to a savage wringing during one of their lovemaking sessions, when he tried to get on top - something she could not abide because of Rape as Backstory.
  • Happily Married: Zachariah and Carina are an interesting variation, given that they're not legally married.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Zachariah develops this as the first sign that his cancer is getting far advanced.
  • Jerkass: The Pastor. Zachariah hates him because of it.
  • Mad Doctor: Take a guess.
  • Manly Tears: Zachariah does this. The context is Tear Jerker fuel.
  • Papa Wolf: When George is brutally strapped by his principal for refusing to take part in a ring-game, Zachariah threatens to chop the man with a machete. When next he sees the principal, though, e chides himself for not have his machete with him.
  • Parental Favoritism: Carina loves her younger son Wilfred, but treats her older son George with disdain. Zachariah plans that once he gets back to land, he’ll tell her that one of the things he learned at sea is that a mother must love her children equally.
  • Rape as Backstory: Carina was abused by her mother's boyfriends as a child.
  • Rape Is Okay When Its Female On Male: As revealed in one of Zachariah's flashbacks, Carina pulled it on him via rather rough seduction, the first week he came under her roof.
  • Tsundere: Both Carina and Mrs. Lewis are this.
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