Book review: Seun Salami’s ‘The Sex life of a Lagos mad woman’ is edgy but doesn’t go far enough

by Wilfred Okiche

The Sex life of a Lagos mad woman is the second collection of short stories authored by ‘Seun Salami, one of the brightest young voices in contemporary fiction. After the release of his last collection, The Son of your father’s concubine (2011), Salami spent some time publishing new, occasionally daring material, mostly online, and garnered quite the following, with his risqué tales of sex. And blood. And more sex.

Some of these stories, in slightly different forms have made their way into his latest, a sparkling, if slender compendium of shorts with plenty of bark, but not enough bite.

Salami has a way with stringing words together to create titles that grab attention at first glance. The book’s title, together with the bold, yellow cover and clear, contrasting illustration is guaranteed to elicit more than just a cursory glance.

Readers who delve in will be rewarded with 12 gripping stories, each one flirting with the darker edges of the human condition. Published by Bookvine, where the writer works as Head of Publishing, Sex life is neatly arranged in 6 parts, each containing 2 stories apiece, dealing on topics such as witch-craft, man’s inhumanity to man, celibacy and of course that most basic of instincts, sex.

At a lean 108 pages, Sex life begs to be devoured in a single reading and goes down smoothly, like a shot of vodka down the alimentary canal.

Some of these stories, in the hands of another writer, would be hard to take in but Salami does not dwell in his characters’ depravity, choosing instead to find hope and humour in the bleakest of situations. Most of the stories are tainted with sex but surprisingly, Mr Salami does not quite bring himself to write graphic, exotic erotica, crafted singularly to titillate the senses. His tone is subdued, whispered, pure even and when he tackles disturbing material, one can feel the Christian in him, holding back.

Which is not to say that he isn’t having fun.

There is plenty of it on Our Pastor is hooked on porn and me, in which he takes readers into the compliant mind of an impressionable young lady, having (gasp) sexual relations with her pastor. The pastor’s predator instincts are classic psychopathic behaviour, but the narrator finds herself sucked deeper and deeper even when she does know better. One would be mistaken to think that this particular story is a fictionalized version of a certain drama that blew up last year but Salami’s version predates that real life scandal and was published originally, long before the ballad of Ese Walter was made public.

The lump in my celibate throat sees a pious reverend father seduced by a proper parishioner and Pentecostal Sabina is the all too familiar tale of the Christian sister who is mandated by society to live her life not according to her own wishes or the dictates of her heart, but by society’s own rigidly defined rules.

Where the characters in the aforementioned stories are repressed; and seeking an outlet for all their pent up emotions, others, elsewhere, are exploding, trapped knee deep in their debauchery.

Uncle Solo is the never do well who squanders all of his family inheritance and abandons his siblings to a life of penury. And The Young witch of Ifewara derives perverse, mystical pleasures in locking up destinies and truncating the hustles of common folk who offend her.

The crown jewel of this collection however, has to be the story which gives the book its title. The author goes beyond his simplistic style and offers a narrative tour de force of delusions, dementia and death with a delicious twist added. “Only Rosco’s thing is sweeter than that Indomie and egg in this life”, his lead character affirms convincingly.

None of the other stories in this collection really  matches up to The Sex life of a Lagos mad woman in terms of plot and storytelling gimmickry but Mr Salami manages to keep them all at an even pacing. He doesn’t always find success though as Flight partner, the shortest of the bunch is a thoroughly unsatisfying peep at same sex attraction. The author starts and ends the story with a hurried disinterest, as if genuinely scared of a visit from GEJ’s anti-gay law soldiers. Witch-hunting nights attempts to explore Akwa Ibom’s infamous child witches but does not quite know how to tell a convincing or empathic tale that could highlight the devastation caused by the menace.

At its core, bold title aside, The Sex life of a Lagos mad woman is a wholesome collection of short stories that dares to highlight topics we would very much prefer to keep silent about and presents them in a way that does not offend anyone. Its motives are quite modest and the author is quite content with peeping out occasionally, but staying on the right side of the safety zone.

Perhaps it would take another similarly themed collection to completely bring out the freak that is obviously itching to burst out of him.

He tries this time, but is yet to venture far enough.

 

– The writer tweets from @drwill20

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