by Helen Oyeyemi, 2016
I’ll say from the start that I’m probably the wrong audience for this collection of short stories. I’m not a huge fan of fantastical and weird stories where you can barely discern who is narrating and how the transcribed events are connected. You could say that What Is Not Your Is Yours falls under the guise of magical realism, which I do like, and you would not be entirely wrong, as the stories have something to do with unexplainable or supernatural-type events, but overall Oyeyemi’s narration left me cold and wondering what she was writing about and if there was a point to it at all. That makes this book sound worse than I mean to, as I’m sure there are many who find the twists and turns of her writing enjoyable. I’m just not one of them.
I didn’t find What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours to be entirely without merit for me. Perhaps my favorite in the bunch was “‘Sorry’ Doesn’t Sweeten Her Tea,” which ended up being a pretty scathing excoriation of celebrity behavior, unapologetic apologies, and an internet culture that believes it can say anything in the comments section with impunity. Its centering on a young girl who is desperate to find some reason to believe in the goodness of her idol, a musician who has been accused of assaulting a prostitute, reminded me vividly of the Chris Brown/Rihanna scandal that had throngs of young women rushing to his defense and claiming that he could beat them up anytime. The story was real and timely in its criticism of how we praise celebrities for acting as their worst selves.
Alas, the rest of Oyeyemi’s stories just weren’t appealing to me and I found myself slogging through the book, looking forward to its end. I can hardly blame her for the fact that I have a bit of an aversion to puppets and found reading 50 pages about marionettes (and narrated by a marionette?) to be skin-crawling, but nevertheless while I understood the eventual point of these stories, I found many of them meandering and with a lot of extraneous information at the outset. There is the pretty woman who keeps to herself and against whom everyone in the workplace teams up in “If a Book Is Locked There’s Probably a Good Reason for That Don’t You Think,” a group of girls outwit and overcome a patriarchal division in “A Brief History of the Homely Wench Society,” and there is a device that allows you to see your alternate future in “Presence” (or so I believe that’s what happened there). I don’t necessarily hate where these stories ended up, I just didn’t like getting there.
It saddens me that I didn’t like this book because I was looking forward to reading some of Oyeyemi’s novels. I suppose I still should, as novels and short stories are quite different beasts and I may find the longer form to be more suited to my tastes. It’s a shame, though, as reading these stories puts her at the back of my priority list.
[Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: read a collection of stories by a woman.]