Title: Smithereens of Death
Publishers: Write House Collective
Author: Olubunmi Familoni
Reviewer: TJ Benson
Smithereens of Death is a classic example of the evolution of the African short story, told in ‘flash-form’ that suits this social media savvy generation who won’t have the patience to read more lengthy short stories. The opening story ‘flies to wanton boys’ is a befitting welcome to the seasoned reader. The gruesome tale which seems half completed in the end is well written with spaced sections that leave room for air.
The writer’s ability for the visual aesthetic continues in the next story where the first paragraph begins ‘Dead silence lay in the street and hung in the remains of houses eaten by bombs’ soon however, the writing becomes too showy, it begins to seem like the carefully wrought frame of a picture you can’t see clearly. The third story begins ‘he sat in the living room like a leprous guest’ and up to this point the reader has not found any character to be intimate.with, just pages of beautiful writing lanced with flashes of humanity in the aftermath of disaster.
Perhaps it is in this very story the reader of the previous seemingly half-completed stories gets rewarded for being patient. Familoni’s excellent writing style finds balance with the content and the result is a beautiful portrait of a nuclear family torn apart when the father leaves abruptly one day ‘to find himself.’
After reading the next story there is no doubt of Familoni’s deft pen, sensitivity to the human experience and eye for detail: ‘A Corpse’s Picture’ is a stand alone master piece that deserves more attention than be tucked away in a collection of tributes to death in spite of its lamentable title. In the story Familoni presents us with two of the most brilliantly portrayed children in African writing, novel or short story.
There are literary victories like the tale of a young woman fleeing her demanding parents, prostitution and her last client who died in her bed, with his dollars and Rolex watch, dressed in her tee shirt and bare feet, unnoticed by the busy Lagos, to Cotonou. There is the coffin maker apprentice who asks after being rudely awakened from an unsold coffin by a stranger
‘What do you want?’
‘What-else is there to want? …a coffin of course!’
‘For a dead person’ the stranger replies in irritation to which the apprentice asks in his own impatience
‘I mean…is it for an old person, young person, fat or thin…what kind of person is your “dead person”?’
The writer’s choice of title is the most troublesome problem. Why do something genius and call it ‘The Other Man’ ? The other problem as has been observed before, is the over writing. ‘The shack’s posture is that of an old man’ would have been enough imagery but the writer adds ‘…suffering from scoliosis’ why?
This high sense of vocabulary and over writing spills into some of his narrators consciousnesses of other characters rightfully poor English. If you managed to ignore the excellent parlance of the boy soldier in the beginning of the first story, the Australian narrator’s irritation with the boy’s ‘descent’ to pidgin would irritate you, what did the white man expect from the native?
In ‘The Fly’ the lead character’s consciousness of the babalawo’s poor English gets really annoying and almost distracts from the prose. But the tale is wonderful, jarring, heartbreaking at the end and mystic but told in such a simple way that its events seem commonplace as they really are in everyday life. When it comes to depicting everyday human experiences Familoni is a hero, in fact some celebrated diaspora writers might learn a thing or two from the collection, but when it comes to depicting violence and its aftermath the stories, though beautifully written, end up seeming half finished.
TJ Benson is a short story writer and creative photographer whose works have appeared in online journals like Jalada Africa, Paragram Uk, Sentinel Literary Magazine and in print magazines and anthologies like ANA Annual Review and Transition Magazine. His chapbook of photography ‘Rituals’ was published in downloadable PDF on Sankofa Magazine in 2015 and his collection of short stories ‘We Won’t Fade Into Darkness’ was shortlisted for the Saraba Manuscript Prize.