by Wilfred Okiche
These words expose us is an 118 page anthology edited by Wole Talabi and published by The Naked Convos (TNC), a thriving online community set up to foster expression among the youth population. Followers of The Naked Convos are familiar with the often sexy, sometimes salacious themes that make up a tidy part of the website’s content. Nothing is taboo and every topic is fair game, even (and especially) if no one else would want to talk about It elsewhere.
This no holds barred approach has made TNC the perfect breeding ground for a fresh generation of writers. Its cult status attracts a diverse range of talents as well as a sizable volume of readership. It is from this pool of talent that Mr Talabi- an editor and regular contributor to the site- gathers his team of short story, flash fiction and novella writers.
13 writers contribute the 16 stories that make up this collection, each one united only by the theme of exposition. The idea of the collection, as gleaned from the unspecific, flowery blurb is to showcase a collection of stories that we would normally never tell, stories that we hold deep within us for fear of being termed misfits, stories that dissect and leave us feeling raw and exposed. 3 of the stories have been previously published on TNC, and the opening story, The Thing with Mr Lawal by ‘Pemi Aguda makes its sophomore appearance here, after a debut in the Kalahari Review.
True to theme, most of the stories flirt with the barely acknowledged and the downright unspeakables. And a number of them are pretty good too.
Aguda’s story opens things up nicely as she observes from a detached distance, and welcomes her readers to cast themselves in the role of a young girl embroiled in a torrid affair with an older man who may or not have sinister motives. Business shines a light on the unhealthy relationship between a working girl- a student by day- and the John whom she frequently turns tricks for.
Pamela Naaki Tetteh’s Introducing Tristan explores that most taboo of subjects in these climes; the unravelling of a same sex relationship as a beloved son brings home his male lover to his mother’s unwavering hostility. Kiah, the 2012 winner of TNC’s popular essay competition, The Writer, weighs in with Iloh’s secret, a heart breaking, yet uplifting tale of a son who traces his birth mother only to find she can never really claim him as hers. And then there is The Girl by the window, Chioma Odukwe’s stunning but tragic exploration of filial love and the toll that mental illness takes on a family. These stories are multi-layered and well written and make up the better portions of the book.
A couple of the stories in this collection take liberties with form and present the narration from multiple characters’ perspectives, switching abruptly between narrators. This works to a certain extent, as in Wale Lawal’s An afternoon at the Palms, an overlong, untamed contemplation of star crossed love in the era of social media, but doesn’t fly on Edwin Okolo’s Kin, another social media driven story that is cold and distant.
Some of the best stories here have the bleakest endings and there is nothing wrong with that so when the editor tries to work in the happily ever kinda feeling with his double entries, A Certain sort of warm magic and Silence, they feel out of place.
The writers are enthusiastic, overly so and it is easy to appreciate this from their use of unnecessarily big sounding words, dialogue that doesn’t quite ring true and clunky, heavy handed prose in some portions; a particular story, Ghosts by Bankole Oluwale is structurally dense and may require more rereads than readers may care to be bothered with.
The smattering of red flags (typographical errors) can be traced to the printer’s devil but the editing stays at a generally acceptable level even when it fails to cut right to the heart of the matter on a couple of entries.
The project may be far from perfect but it is timely and serves an important purpose, providing a platform for more writers to get their voices heard. With a lot more support and editorial ambition, it may well become an important springboard for emerging writing talent.