Monday, October 27, 2008

Snapshot Book Review: Say You're One of Them

Say You're One of Them Say You're One of Them by Uwem Akpan

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
I decided to read this book because of popular review. People loved it. Time loved it. Essence loved it. Entertainment Weekly loved it. Maybe I should have checked my sources--all owned by Time Inc. (duh)--but I figured that a book generating this much positive press would be worth reading.

I won't go back on this opinion--it was worth reading. It was as about worth reading as most other books I have read: nothing spectacular, but not a waste of my time, either. What seemed wasteful in Akpan's book was the way that the lengthiest stories were the least effective. Perhaps it was their length that diluted them; perhaps if they had been shortened to the size and style of the stories that impacted me the most, that left me what felt like a taste of experience or shock, they would have felt like less of a chore to read.

On the positive end, the longer stories gave me more of a sense of the character narrating them. "Fattening for Gabon" and "Luxurious Hearses" are both 136 pages, and I had the clearest pictures of Kotchikpa and Jubril respectively by the end of each of their stories. This is only logical, however, since at the end of a full-length novel, you fully expect to know the characters, or else you will have lost interest by page 150. I also felt I understood Jigana, the eldest son and narrator in "An Ex-mas Feast" quite well despite its shorter 34-page length. This is probably because the story did not attempt to accomplish much aside from depicting family dymanics, and told from a very distinctive point of view, this can create a story in and of itself.

My favorite story was the book's title story, "My Parents' Bedroom," in which Monique's mother tells her, "When they ask, say you're one of them." For someone like me who finds titling works of writing incredibly hard, I found this a stroke of brilliance. The title fits the story collection perfectly. Meanwhile, this story had the most impact on me, not just because of its violence--the other stories certainly contained violence--but because of the narrator's ability to withhold understanding of what was occurring around her so that I, the reader, also did not know until she had figured it out. And what she cannot understand, I cannot understand, as if I am her age, living inside of her. Usually I hate being confused at the actions of other characters in the story. But here, "not knowing" only makes sense, and it makes the story come alive.

Short stories are a tough genre, and Akpan does indeed deserve acolades for his endeavors. I just need to remember, in the future, not to read books on recommendation from the press. I am almost always, in some capacity or other, disappointed.

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