Book Title: Happiness Like Water
Author: Chinelo Okparanta
Year of publication: 2013
Reviewer: Adeniyi Taiwo Kunnu
appiness Like Water is a brazen collection of short stories that are fictive realities of our lives. The part of us we love to share, or those moments which are locked up in our remotest recesses. Expressing itself in cunning artistry, the stories become personified as you would a speaking ink on an accompanying piece of white paper, rustling under the weight of a dexterous hand, crafting thoughts and moulding minds without being bridled.
On Ohaeto Street opens readers to the un-put-down-able collection. Eze and Chinwe become a married couple after the intrigues of evangelism by Eze. Chinwe’s ideals of a man she wants differ, but as would in many homes, her mother’s will prevailed and she becomes the wife of a man whose religious inclination and financial prospects are enough to make him qualify, thus becoming a husband to a woman whose life he values less than his cars and other material possessions. On page 15, paragraph 3: “But the more she looks at him, the more defeat she feels, because she knows that she’s no match for the car”.
The challenges of child-bearing and the length a woman is made to go in getting it splatters the pages of the story which makes up ‘Wahala’. From the cleansing process at a herbalist’s, to the hosting of a family party, the threads of pain felt by every woman who makes effort at bearing a child resonates. Nneka, Ezinne’s mother would not be alive to see her daughter bear the name, mgbaliga – an empty barrel. Her daughter’s pain combines the pressure of not becoming productive for Chibuzor, her husband. Again, a woman’s pains rises to a crescendo as she desires the completeness that is associated with a woman’s lifetime cycle. The yearning, the challenges and eventual hope for the ‘fruit of the womb’ prompt deep thoughts.
‘Fairness’ is the third and most replete with comical relief of the stories. The mischief of secondary school students was explored, and what rib-cracking moments there were, as an attempt to have light-complexioned skin turns out way beyond expectation. Onyechi suddenly turns fair, while freely availing Uzoamaka and Clara the secret of her magical physical conversion. Experience turns out to be the best teacher afterwards.
The devious nature of humans gets the proper examination in the fourth story. ‘Story Story’ is in fact a narrative told about Nneoma and how desperation to have her emotions satiated and motherly longings gratified, results in satanic entrapment through her fetish practices. Four pregnant women lost both ways all for her to conceive a child. The zenith and seeming un-forgiveness of her actions is that, she seeks her prey in the church, showing penitence just for a momentary reprieve of graver ill.
Survival series is definitely on the cards as well. Charles Darwin in the Origin of Species says; the most adaptable to change of any living creature survives. By implication, neither the strongest nor the smartest cope, but the ones which understand the dynamics of change. Ada’s mother appears on a journey to death land because of her sickness, having initially lost her husband. Without a father and with a sick mother, Ada becomes a Runs Girl in the self-titled story; seeking to cater to her mother’s needs and her education.
America and Shelter are in tow. With both settings in the USA, America examines Lesbianism in ways that only few have, while Shelter dwells upon the lack of choice for a woman in a grossly abusive relationship. The former considers the pains of same sex sexual preference and the latter flays the irascible excesses of a man who cannot take a count of his teeth with his tongue.
Grace is the seventh and arguably the most profound of the stories in this fiction. It is an unusual lesbian connection between a lecturer in religion and a student of the same department. From seeking answers to prodding on faith, to a sudden swing in mood and complete transfer of intimate loveliness to another; Chinelo Okaparanta demystifies the illusions of amorous expressions between same sex of old and young diversions.
Design pitches a simple Nigerian wife-to-be against a no- holds – barred former girlfriend. Nonso is the man who wants to eat his cake, have it and be a person whose tendency never to lose a thing, while opening his palm facing down is legendary. But legends die, so does the sexual theatrics and subtle ‘penile’ excesses of the man in the middle of an American girlfriend meant to be in the past by the name Celeste, and an unarguably dutiful Ifeinwa, who is now living in America to be a wife.
‘Tumours and Butterflies’ is about the indifference to make a mother get out of an abusive relationship. She stays put, while Uchenna, her only daughter could not enjoy the least cordiality with her parents, particularly her father. He falls ill, her mother calls, he remains unbearable, his wife supports him, Uchenna takes a final walk-off and nothing seems the same again.
Okparanta elevates the women-folk as angels to say the least, whereas the men are sure the albatross of the she-human kind. This position evidently demonstrates a deliberateness to enable women assume more power and positivity, which in itself is good, but her obvious stance may give this brilliant author up as one whose world and literary view needs utmost diversity and elastic geography, which in itself would be very needful…
On page 144 she writes,
“Happiness is like water…. We are always trying to grab onto it, but it’s always slipping between our fingers….”