Thursday 12 December 2013

“Love Is Power, or Something Like That” by A. Igoni Barrett

This is how you know you have come to read a good book: you open the book and language sponges you in. Such book does not thrust stories into your face. No. it doesn’t. God eternally forbids I ever spend my money on any book with tepid language. Believe any theory you want about literature. Diction always is prime over stories. There are just no new stories. If literature is the mirror of life, then the stories it tells are the lives we already know. If there is anything different in a story, only attribute it to the writer’s creative twist. Nothing is new. My grandma is one engaging storyteller. If that woman knew what it was to write, she may have written the best fable rehash ever. Nothing was new in her stories, only the language entertained us. Igoni’s “Love Is Power, or Something Like That” tells nothing new. Its charming language makes everything as beautifully different. 

From “The Worst Thing That Happened”, “Trophy”,My Smelling Mouth Problem”, “The Shape of a Full Circle”, “Dream Chaser”, “Love Is Power, or Something Like That”, “Godspeed and Perpetua”, “The Little Girl With Budding Breasts and a Bubblegum Laugh” to “A Nairobi Story of Goings and Comings”, these are pieces as true to the messy life we live in, the checkered presence we call life, living. Igoni only knows an engaging way to tell our stories and he does it good. It is all about language, reader. This book pulls it off very much in that regard. And you will soon find yourself owning the stories as if you had written them. Igoni serves his fare that well in this collection of nine stories.

The stories are revolting, funny, witty and entertaining in a numbing and exhilarating way. Realities could be wicked. The ways they are presented in this book are brazen and convincing. The realities in this book are jabbing but not new truths. Igoni only paints wicked realities and makes them fun all the way. Isn’t that what happens as one gets inured to known realities? We laugh them off. There is a thrilling panacea in laughing pains off. We laugh them off, we are relieved but they don’t go away. They stay with us. In laughter we only find a ridiculous way to cope with them longer. In this book, even the banal surprisingly gathers cuttingly entertaining strength. See “My Smelling Mouth Problem” and you would understand why I said so. This is the only thing you get in originality told in engaging conversation. Yes, Igoni’s book is conversational. It talks with the reader because the characters are true and the language engaging. In this book, Igoni’s words sing. 

Consider this interesting;

“He looked down at her, this weight in his arms. He walked to the bed and placed her on it. She whimpered, drew up her knees, and crossed her arms over her chest. He slipped off her sandals, pulled the blanket up to her neck, then turned on the air conditioner, switched off the light, and lay down on the carpet at the foot of the bed.
He couldn’t sleep. His imagination grew insect legs and crawled all over his nerves. He scratched his arms, rubbed his face, slapped at his feet. When the bug bites became unbearable on one side, he rolled over….
You don’t have to sleep on the floor, there’s enough space here , she said, patting the bed… (pg. 127-128)”
Abuses of the slow demeaning kind cut across the stories. In “Love Is Power, or Something Like That”, “Trophy”, “The Shape of a Full Circle” and “The Little Girl With Budding Breasts and a Bubblegum Laugh”, there is no constant abuser. One moment, the abused is the abuser, another time, the abuser the abused. Abusers and the violent then become just terms for the acts and not permanently to identify their doers. Who is the abuser really: Dimme Abrakasa, the landlord or Daoju Anabraba? Joke or Babasegun? Shakira or her cousin? Adrawus or the uniform? Godspeed or Perpetua? Ascertaining this could really be a puzzle. It becomes quite easy when none is seen less guilty than the other. Everything is interestingly messy and it is in that foulness that all are connected. None carries a wholesale guilt. Everybody is as guilty as they are to be pitied. We only need to consider their circumstances. Or what will you say of the dream chaser, Samu’ila? Would his brother be more blamed than him with its many internet shenanigans? No. Perhaps. Confusing? Hahaha.

The stories in this book are looming and engaging as life. The pains are in chain of causes. Nothing is the uncaused cause. No one is blameless. I do not speak arcane philosophy here. It is what is. Life. If you decide to blame Ma Billie’s children for her near neglect in her old age, what will you say of the event leading to her husband’s demise and the dogs’?

I first came across “My Smelling Mouth Problem” as an oral short story. In its written form in this collection, it reads dull. I wouldn’t want to hold forth on the incompatibility of the oral to the written. Most oral pieces wouldn’t just remain the same in their written versions. This is where the written words, as we know them, fail. Try as you may, when oral pieces are transcribed, they are always as half enjoyable, half as solid. This is one reason most written Old English poems do not sound as good as their original oral forms. Go read “The Battle of Maldon”, “Beowulf” and “The Prologue and Franklin’s Tale” and also listen to them in rendition; you will moan their written forms. So when I came to “My Smelling Mouth Problem”, I knew it can’t just be as fluid as the published oral version. You should listen to the oral version of that story here. When you listen to it, you will mock the written version. With the excellent and profuse use of the Nigerian English, this story is smooth only in its oral version. God saves us from unthinking publishers. Nothing stops Farafina from including a disc of the oral version of that story in this book. Any cheap disc will do the work. That story is entirely whacked in its written form. When you listen to the preview of the audio version, you wouldn’t mind paying more to have an audio version of the story included in the book. And then they will still attend seminars and reel on making the book better. Isn't this one of the ways of doing so?

Could someone tell me what “Dream Chaser” is doing in this collection? We have read it in the author’s debut, “From Caves of Rotten Teeth. What is with republishing it here? The revision on it notwithstanding, it is like shortchanging Igoni’s earlier readers. I skipped it in this book. Just what would I do with a revised old story republished in a new collection? Whoever the editor is, republishing “Dream Chaser” is like having a sour mayonnaise sandwiched in soft fresh bread. 

“Love Is Power, or Something Like That” is eloquent. Its stories are interesting. The writer’s voice is confident without belaboured. The stories in the collection grow on you. And you will like them so. You should read this book.

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  1. Critiquing your review I would say watch out for how many times you use the term Oral version. It sounded repetitive. Better to say podcast, which it what it was. Doesn't mean it was never written first.

    You are losing some sort of coherence. Your ramblings in paragraph3 about language, revolting stories, brazen etc are not clear especially as you give no quick examples. All in all, a below average review.

    1. Thank you for engaging the review. And thank you for commenting. Please read the book if you haven't. I bet you will find it interesting. :)

  2. The review is not like some I have read. It seemed disjointed, not fluid. I was surprised when I started reading negative criticism after some heavy dose of praise; not that the latter is a wrong thing to do but the transition was too sharp.

    And yes, this could have been leaner. I would have gone away remembering a lot of things you wrote.

    I listened to the preview of the audio. Seems interesting. I like the naija feel it has-- "the thing that was doing me." Sweet.

    1. Your comment is appreciated. I hope you get to read the book someday soon. Thanks for reading.