Lesley Nneka Arimah: Short Stories with Big Soul

"What it Means When a Man Falls From the Sky" by Lesley Nneka Arimah book cover

While browsing my bookshelf, I realized most of my recently checked out titles were written by men.  No offense to the literary fellas in my life, but this prompted me to change directions and begin researching newer female writers emerging on the scene.  The first title I chose is the What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky, a 2017 Kirkus Prize collection of short fiction stories created by author Lesley Nneka Arimah.  Lesley moved around a lot due to her father’s life as a soldier, but her times spent living in Nigeria heavily influenced her writing in this assemblage.  Many of the characters’ lives are based in Nigeria, or have ties to the country.  The stories center on emotionally engaging relationships between mothers and daughters, some loving and others fraught with hardships and mistrust.  Tones of magical realism, heartbreak, and social injustice exist throughout Lesley’s debut collection, which I found hard to put down.

There are 12 stories featured in the book.  In “Wild,” an unruly teenage girl is forced to go live with a cousin, who is said to be raised as “a nice proper girl.” It turns out the cousin is far different from the pretty picture she is painted as. During a night out, reputations clash and lies are unveiled, emitting new consciousness that launches both girls into the next chapter of their lives.

“Windfalls” involves a mother making her income entirely from lawsuit money. To achieve this, she forces her daughter to expertly, “accidentally” trip and fall in supermarkets, hospitals, or any place where there is a slippery floor available.  Even when the daughter suffers actual injuries, the mother celebrates their unjust financial success with far too much ease.  The daughter fully realizes she is a pawn in her mother’s twisted game when the theatrics become scarily irrefutable.

One of the more fantastical stories that stuck around my brain long after completing is “Who Will Greet You at Home.” This piece involves women sculpting their children out of physical materials such as wood, human hair, clay, or glass.  The better and more beautiful the material, the more admirable the child and mother will be deemed by society.  Lesley uses unique metaphors to examine the struggles of motherhood, and focuses on the innate desire to achieve perfection for your child in a sometimes unforgiving world.

Lesley’s stories do not always offer precise, obvious conclusions; they’re mostly left open-ended, allowing you to ponder which direction the character was to take.  The characters’ futures may not have been clear, but this book leads me to believe Lesley’s future as a storyteller will be bright and long lasting.

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