Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Review: "Love is Power, Or Something Like That " by A. Igoni Barrett

The world Nigerian author A. Igoni Barrett crafts with his brilliant and fierce short story collection Love is Power, Or Something Like That is one fraught with political turmoil, shaky moral compasses and people caught between worlds of extreme poverty and ambiguous wealth. Its landscape is unique, being that of the city of Lagos, Nigeria, but its greatness lies somewhat in how familiar it feels as well. You can see hints of the greatness that made other short story collections great in these wholly original stories. I was able to recall, with great joy, the feelings I had reading something like Donald Ray Pollock’s Knockemstiff, Alan Heathcock’s Volt and even Frank Bill’s Crimes in Southern Indiana, stories with settings worlds away from this one, but imbued with the same sense of wonder, the same keen sense of place and the ideas that danger and joy can be right around the corner. I was a huge fan of Barrett’s debut novel, Blackass, which I read last year, and while these stories don’t edge into the kind of bizarre satire that book does, it still has that book’s brutal ear for dialogue, it’s apprehension of a perfect world and the rewards it can sometimes give out and the ways interactions with people can be entirely unpredictable. I can’t think of a week story in this collection, although I prefer the shorter ones to the longer pieces, two of which go on for more than 20 pages. The book starts off strong with “The Worst Thing That Can Happen” about an old woman seeking a ride to the hospital where she will have eye surgery, a procedure which she has had multiple times. Barrett is a big fan of delving into the main characters psyche and past history. We know early on how many kids she has (one of whom moved to America and hasn’t been heard from in decades), how many grandkids she has and who she doesn’t like in the neighborhood, which makes the eventual denial of a ride from her nearest child that much more painful, and who she eventually gets a ride from that much more poignant. In the bitterly hilarious “Dream Chaser”, a teenage boy plays hooky from school and spends his time in an Internet cafĂ© catfishing a lonely old man. In the title story, a low ranking policeman deals with the daily grind of working in a corrupt legal system by soaking up the little moments at home with his wife and son. This story might be the most memorable because it has tow two strongest and most disquieting scenes in the book back to back. Finally the longest story, “Godspeed and Perpetua” charts the relationship of a couple that marries into good fortune but can’t escape the slow erosion of their passion. It’s almost like a novella as it follows the couple from a happy marriage, to parenthood, to the ways religion helps to destroy their love, to an ending that sits of the precipice of shattering violence. There is something hypnotic in these gritty stories, just as there was in Blackass. It sticks with you and lingers in way only the best fiction can.

Rating: 5/5

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