The Premise: the daughters, wives and mothers in Lesley Nneka Arimah’s remarkable debut collection find themselves in extraordinary situations: a woman whose mother’s ghost appears to have stepped out of a family snapshot, another who, exhausted by childlessness, resorts to fashioning a charmed infant out of human hair, a ‘grief worker’ with a miraculous ability to remove emotional pain – at a price. What unites them is the toughness of the world they inhabit, a world where the future is uncertain, opportunities are scant, and fortunes change quicker than the flick of a switch.
Thoughts: this has been one of my most anticipated reads of 2017 and it didn’t disappoint. I read a lot of short story collections (a recent development, perhaps due to my dwindling attention span) and what I particularly liked about this one was the way Arimah manages to balance variety with consistency; sometimes the stories of a collection are too samey but, equally, if they’re too different, it’s hard to flit between wildly varied plots. This is managed really well here, with an intriguing mix of emotive family-based narratives and some beautifully executed magical realism. If you’ve read and enjoyed Roxane Gay’s excellent Difficult Women, I recommend this.
Relationships are a key feature, with mothers and daughters cropping up frequently, along with culture clashes between the USA and Nigeria that reminded me of the imperious Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Fathers feature too, with the story Light having a particularly strong effect on me. There’s a focus throughout on close bonds and the claustrophobic effect these can produce, also seen in the story Buchi’s Girls. Who Will Greet You At Home is exactly the kind of odd and unsettling story I seek out in collections like this one; its focus on a woman making a baby out of whatever she can find is both heartbreaking and creepy, justifying other comparisons I’ve seen between Lesley Nneka Arimah’s writing and the stories of Helen Oyeyemi. I loved the title story, with its portrayal of a strange, futuristic world in which people are curiously divided and reliant on a Formula to make sense of the world around them; this story is one that left me yearning for more, desperate for a full-length novel about the Mathematicians and an Earth redrawn by environmental catastrophe.
In Conclusion: What It Means When A Man Falls From the Sky is definitely a book I want to revisit. Sometimes I feel like reading on my Kindle prevents me from fully immersing myself in a story, and I’ll ensure I buy a ‘proper’ copy of this so I can appreciate once again Arimah’s exquisite prose and glorious narratives.