Review: A Few Good Things About Arimah’s ‘What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky’
Book Title: What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky
Author: Lesley Nneka Arimah
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group, 2017
Reviewer: Joseph Omotayo
This collection of short stories does not meet my expectation and I will say why. Some of the best short stories in this collection had already been published online, some were shortlisted for and won coveted prizes. What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky and Who Will Greet You At Home were shortlisted for the 2016 and 2017 Caine Prize for African Writing. They were stories with great promise which we thought would win, but the Caine Prize for African Writing has never been that predictable. Light won the 2015 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for Africa. Glory went viral when it was published on Harper and in 2017 won O Henry Prize. Now you know why my expectation was high for a collection of short stories that would come later from the same author.
However, on reading this collection, I was somewhat disappointed. I felt I had read everything this collection had to offer in those already published stories. The collection did not offer new thrills for a reader like me. Most of the new stories in the collection do not measure up to the hype. This is perhaps one of the problems of having most of the best stories in a collection published online before they are put together in a book. Perhaps this is why they say the traditional book is dying. Lesley Nneka Arimah will still be a fine writer with or without this collection.
In this collection of twelve short stories, Lesley Nneka shows the human tendency to revolt, to survive and change situations. Lesley Nneka Arimah’s characters do not allow things happen to them without challenging the situation. They are the assertive kind. Throughout the collection, the place of children in the society seems to be the motif. In appraising them, one also sees how the collection arrays the significance of parenting and how the society is affected whenever this function goes wrong. In Who Will Greet You At Home, Windfalls, Light, Wild, The Future Looks Good, War Stories, Glory and Buchi’s Girls, the family is seen as not only the first agent of socialisation, but as an important unit of a society.
In Who Will Greet You At Home, things quickly go awry for Ogechi following an altercation with her mother. With pride, she will slave under Mama, a woman who will exploit her to give things her mother should have given her without charge. In this story, children are made from different materials, other than semen and ova, and every mother blesses her daughter’s child to life. But when Ogechi side-lines her mother, she pays greatly for it; with her joy, money and peace.
In Light, a mother’s distance from her child affects her home, changes and scars her child. Enebeli, the husband, will do everything to fill the vacuum. But there is little a father can do in the absence of a mother. As the child’s mother later tries to rescue the situation, she destroys more than she saves her daughter.
Windfalls tells the story of a mother who runs her daughter’s life aground for pecuniary gains. This is one of the few new stories that excite me in this collection. Playing shenanigans on corporate lawsuits, a mother and her child are in the business of staging premeditated accidents for compensation money.
In The Future Looks Good, we see how misfortune is a very fated flaw. You do not have to have done anything to merit it. In an undeserved way, Ezinma would take the fall for her sister, Bibi. Bibi, who flouts her parents to marry Godwin will come out of her actions unscathed as Ezinma pays the price.
What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky can be said to deal unmistakably with the family system.
There are a number of expressions to ponder in this collection. Lesley Nneka Arimah writes with a didactic feel. I took a lot of notes while reading this book. There are sentences that hook you and you never want to stop reading them. On distance in relationships, the book struck depth with this:
“…This starts another argument between husband and wife, mild at first, but then it peppers and there is this thing that distance does where it subtracts warmth and context and history and each finds that they’re arguing with a stranger.”
Here, Lesley Nneka Arimah profoundly comments on racism and you may almost miss it. I like the way she tucks in racism without burdening the reader:
“My cousin is a bitch, I typed, then sent to Leila. A few minutes later she responded.
Yeah, I heard your mom sent you back to Africa. Text me some topless women!”
What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky is a collection whose strength is not in the many stories in the collection but in a few we already know.