In this debut collection of short stories Lesley pulls the reader out of the world they are in and places them into the universe of each story so artfully that coming back to wherever you’re sitting and reading as you finish each story is almost upsetting. These stories focus on what binds us in relationships—parents and children, cousins, neighbors, lovers—and the places that we call home. And even at their darkest moments the world of these stories is compelling, magical, and demands to be read. Many of these short stories look at potential futures, near and distant and how these could affect out personal lives and relationships.
This is very much a collection of literary short stories if we are going strictly by the “literary fiction is more focused on character and themes, while genre fiction is focused on plot” rule of thumb. But these worlds and the way that technology often intersects with the characters give these stories a sci-fiction sometimes fable-like feeling. This is probably my own shortcomings as a reader but I often find that the ways authors integrate technology and social media into their pieces lacking, but Lesley was able to accurately tackle the amount of our identity that we place is social media presence in the short story “Glory,” which follows Glorybetogod Ngozi Akunyili as she fights against Facebook’s real name policy while navigating interpersonal relationships with her mother, grandfather (who “called her “that girl” the first time he saw her. “That girl has something rotten in her, her chi is not well.”), and Thomas (a Nigerian intern at the call center she works in). This story the choices that we make and how they affect our future selves and others.
“Who Will Greet You at Home” is about women who sculpt babies out of straw, yarn, raffia, paper, plastic, sugar-and-spice, porcelain, anything, and what the baby is built out of effects their future. I couldn’t help but be reminded of “The Handmaid’s Tale” (probably because I’m watching the show) and the desperation Ogechi, the main character, feels to make a worthy baby, because a baby would change everything for her. Lesley’s power in characterization and world-building allows her to drop the reader into the conflict of each story and build the world around that, which isn’t something many short story authors can do, sometimes it feels as if they are spending so much time building the world the story is missed or telling the story we aren’t moved into a new world.
Recommendation: I could take each of the short stories in this collection and talk about their strong points but instead I’m going to say that you should find this collection of stories and read it in your nearest park, café, bedroom while fighting off the knowledge that you should just go to bed already. And join me in being excited for whatever comes next from Lesley Nneka Arimah.