Wednesday's Story by Wole Talabi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Stories within a story. A nursery rhyme reworked. This is Wole Talabi's ambitious modernist fantasy fable. Available on Lightspeed Magazine's website as text and accompanying well read audio.
Many of us will remember the English nursery rhyme Solomon Grundy, and if you have any contact with people from Nigeria you will also know that many people name their children for the day they were born. This is the core of Talabi's story told by Wednesday - she and her siblings tell the alternative story of Solomon Grundy - SPOILER ALERT one which has Grundy born of a English boatswain's rape of an African woman, Bamigbàlà , brought up by her employer Viscount Sydney Philips whose head servants fear Solomon will take over the business after the Viscount's death and plot with assassins to murder him.
So far a straightforward reworking of the rhyme with an African history twist. But this retelling of the Grundy story by the siblings is further disturbed by Wednesday's use of a "timestone" to enter into the story itself - this magical /fantastical intervention transforms this reworking into something else. Wednesday, overcome with the pain and suffering as told in the Grundy story at the part where his beloved wife Atinuke lies dying at the assassin's hands, uses the timestone to freeze reality and enter the story-world. There he meets Okeméji, the forest, and Ikoro-man, a cruel tree-man to whom he tries to appeal for help to end the Solomon's struggle with the assassins and change the outcome. Of course stories cannot be changed – neither by Wednesday within the story world or by Solomon within Wednesday's reality. Finally Wednesday tells us the ending of the Solomon Grundy story - which of we know from the nursery rhyme - "Died on Saturday, Buried on Sunday".
But even that is not the full extent of Talabi's tale. Interspersed within are fables - the unpunished rape of the young Emeh by a holy man leading to the insanity of her revengeful father; the story of the cruel Ikoro-man who cured barren women in the village of Oluronbi, wife of a poor woodcarver, who not having other forms of wealth and goods of value offered up her first born. She of course renege on this promise, her husband carving a replica daughter to try to trick the Ikoro-man - read the story to find out if he was successful or not! ; and the "no good deed goes unpunished" story of the hunter and the dragon and the tortoise. Each of these are good fables in and of themselves.
The complexity of this structure is further enhanced by Talabi having Wednesday as she tells this whole tale, her story talk about the structure of stories, with a beginning a middle and an end, or two beginnings, or many middles, all culminating in the one end - or is it the end?
I loved the final paragraphs SPOILER ALERT
"If I have already told you how the story ends, then which part of the story is this now?
I'm not sure.
I think this is the part of the story between the last written word and the bottom of the page on which it is written; the space between the breath with which the narrator exhales the final word of the story and his next in which there is no story; the distance between the height at which belief has been suspended and the solid, hard, floor or reality; the empty, fluid places where, for what is even less than a moment, the characters, the audience, the narrator, and the author of the story can all become equally real to one another, become intimately aware of one another, and maybe, just maybe, even become one another, depending on the shape of the story".
For me this almost sums up exactly what I want to be experiencing when I have finished a story - that is has become real through the telling, that I experience something on different levels within and from it and its telling.
ashramblings verdict 4* Well done Wole Talabi! This is the first story of yours I have read and I was truly impressed. I look forward to reading more.
I came across Wole Talabi's name upon seeing his list of African Speculative Fiction on Brittle Paper's website - a great find. His Blog also lists this story
There's an interview with author Wole Talabi also available on Lightspeed Magazine's website
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