Book: What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky
Author: Lesley Nneka Arimah
With an original take on speculative, dystopian, fantastical, magical realism and any other term that stands for ‘knocks the breath out of you’, Lesley Nneka Arimah has spun a collection of short stories in such a spectacular and intelligent manner that will stay with us for a very long time. These stories revolve around humanity and relationships in its complexities with a persistent streak of what we could almost readily surmise to be pessimism, but with time reveals itself to be the handprints of a gifted writer who refuses to turn her head away but faces these notions that terrify, weaken and break our hearts in turn and while being sufficiently broken, we are grateful for it.
Is there a central theme to these stories? Maybe, maybe not. I believe that while there are shining tales of different layers of relationships and its intricacies, this book is really about women; mothers, daughters, friends, ‘frenemies’, lovers etc. In Light, which is a personal favourite, the opening paragraph says,
‘When Enebeli Okwara sent his girl out in the world, he did not know what the world did to daughters. He did not know how quickly it would wick the dew off her, how she would be returned to him hollowed out, relieved of her better parts’.
This excerpt, I believe, says a lot about most of the other stories in this collection: the process and metamorphosis a lot of the female characters have to live through and how it shapes their experiences and their relationships with other people. And the best part? This is done in such a skillful and articulate manner that the stories do not end up being just about that.
In What is a Volcano, we have a ‘just so’ tale that turns opens into dark and unexpected angles but still manages not to stretch itself too thin. The God of Ants believes himself to be in a feud with the goddess of Rivers who happens to be more amused by these exchanges of antics and doesn’t think much of the River God until he kidnaps her twin daughters because ‘someone should have known you do not take small things from a small man’. With Windfalls, there is enough in the quote ‘The first time you fall, you were six. Before then, you were too young to fall and had to be dropped, pushed, made to slip for the sake of authenticity. And you like to believe that the first fall, the one that left you with a permanent brace on your ankle was real’ to fully appreciate and still be sufficiently disturbed about the abusive show this mother-daughter act have consistently starred in.
Glory is a take on a cursed chi, unluckiness and if destinies are malleable or we are all just doomed from the start. ‘If you can’t please the gods, trick them’, this is Glory’s grandfather’s advice to her which she decides to take seriously on meeting Thomas who might just be the answer to escaping her misery of a life. This is why it gets interesting as the story pans out when Glory finds out she’s not been the only crafty person trying to create an alternate reality in the relationship.
But perhaps the most haunting story in this collection is the surreal Who Will Greet You at Home. In this world, the answer to the innocuous ‘where do children come from’ question leaves this reviewer’s throat dry. Here, children are made from yarn, mud, raffia, cotton wool, wrapping paper and even porcelain, if you are that fancy. And their grandmothers bless life into them. Unless you are not on good terms with your mother and then a scary elderly woman will, with a bit of your joy, empathy or whatever else makes you human as the price of course. When Ogechi, desperate for her own child, makes a child out of different tufts of hair gathered in her madam’s hairdressing shop, she finds herself embroiled with a ‘child’ that is more than she bargained for.
While I would love to gush at length about all the stories in this collection, it suffices to say Lesley will keep readers on the edge of their seats and minds with her nuances, narrative power and cutting humor. Short stories when properly executed have a capacity to take one on quite long journeys and, What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky is a pretty fine way to make a debut.