Our August pick for the PBS NewsHour-New York Times book club, “Now Read This,” is Lesley Nneka Arimah’s debut short story collection “What It Means When A Man Falls From the Sky.” Become a member of the book club by joining our Facebook group, or by signing up to our newsletter. Learn more about the book club here and see all the previous book club selections here.
Strong women populate Lesley Nneka Arimah’s short stories in her debut collection, “What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky.”
Some defy their mothers. Others defy convention. Glory, the titular lead character of one story, is equally independent and complicated. She seems haunted by bad luck, but as the story progresses we wonder if perhaps it is luck of her own making. Is the story meant to be realism or magical realism? Is Glory cursed or bad at decision-making? Or do people simply view her all wrong? As with many of Nneka Arimah’s stories, there is no easy answer.
Below, Nneka Arimah annotates a page of “Glory,” explaining where she got the opening scene, how she sees Glory, and the challenge of writing unlikeable characters. (Click on the yellow text to see the annotations.)
When Glory’s parents christened her Glorybetogod Ngozi Akunyili, they did not foresee Facebook’s “real name” policy, nor the weeks she would spend populating forms and submitting copies of her bills and driver’s license and the certificate that documented her birth on September 9, 1986, a rainy Tuesday, at 6:45 pm, after six hours of labor and six years of barrenness. Pinning on her every hope they had yet to realize, her parents imagined the type of life well-situated Igbos imagined for their children. She would be a smart girl with the best schooling. She would attend church regularly and never stray from the Word. (Amen!) She would learn to cook like her grandmother, her father added, to which her mother countered, why not like her mother, and Glorybetogod’s father hemmed and hawed till his wife said maybe he should go and eat at his mother’s house. But back to Glorybetogod, whom everyone called Glory except for her grandfather, who called her “that girl” the first time he saw her.
“That girl has something rotten in her, her chi is not well.”
Husband pulled wife out of the room to prevent a brawl (“I don’t care how old that drunk is, I will fix his mouth today”) and begged his father to accept his firstborn grandchild. He didn’t see, as the grandfather did, the caul of misfortune covering Glory’s face that would affect every decision she made, causing her to err of the side of wrong, time and time again. When Glory was five she decided, after much consideration, to stick her finger into the maw of a sleeping dog. At seven, shortly after her family relocated to the U.S., Glory thought it a good idea to walk home when her mother was five minutes late picking her up from school, a choice that saw her lost and sobbing in a Piggly Wiggly parking lot before night fell. She did a lot of things out of spite, the source of which she couldn’t identify—as if she’d been born resenting the world.