Skip to main content

New Yorker Fiction Review: "Apollo" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Issue: April 13, 2015

Story:  "Apollo" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Rating: $/Meh

Review: CNA was one of the first authors I ever reviewed as part of my on-going project to review every story in the NYer since I started back in early 2013. Her story "Checking Out," from the March 18, 2013 issue, underwhelmed me due to its somewhat thinly-drawn character. This story underwhelms me for a different, though I suppose somewhat related reason, but is not without some real value.

Set partly in modern-day Nigeria and partly in 1970s Nigeria, the story is told by a middle-aged man named Okenwa as he visits his elderly parents and examines his relationship with them through an incident that happened in his childhood. His parents, now as then, are bookish, cold, and completely devoted to one another, so that they form a completely singular unit. As an adult, he is wearied by their lack of understanding of him; they keep asking him if and when he's going to get married, have a child, etc. even though he's past 40 and -- as is hinted at later -- gay. The incident involves one of the family's "house boys" name Raphael to whom Okenwa formed an attachment (non sexual, per se) but who is abruptly cast out of the house because of a simple incident that Okenwa himself caused and blamed on Raphael.

Far from being regretful of the incident or of Raphaels ultimate plight (he eventually turned to crime), Okenwa seems to use the incident as a way to re-examine his parents and his mis-understood relationship with them. He sees that they were harsh, overly-strict and quick-to-judge, and especially back then during his childhood. Perhaps that's why he was forced to connect with the only person who showed him any real attention: Raphael.

"Apollo" works because it deals with memory and identity in the way that we as humans are forced to process it all: imperfectly and while we're hurtling forward in life with limited information and an ever-shifting perspective. We mis-remember bits and pieces of incidents. People mellow or wither in our mind's eyes. We get the dates wrong, the faces wrong. We tell ourselves it happened one way enough times until we actually believe it. All the while we're being influenced by other things that come our way in the meantime.

In the minus column, the "incident" at the end seemed a little to much like a stock short-story ending.
CNA
I feel like I've heard this story before, in fact, in a French movie whose title I forget. So what? There are only so many plots circulating around in this world. The so what is that CNA seemingly uses the incident as a flourish to end the story, and nothing more. There is, literally, nothing else after that. She does not allow Okenwa to reflect on the incident as a child or as a man, thus leaving us hanging in a peculiar and quite unsatisfying way.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

New Yorker Fiction Review: "The Apologizer" by Milan Kundera

Issue: May 4, 2015

Rating: $$

Review: It took me five years and three separate attempts to finish Milan Kundera's famous novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, but in spite of that, quotes and insights from that book still rattle round my head on a weekly basis. What I mean to say is: my feelings on Kundera are very similar to my feelings on Haruki Murakami. I enjoy reading his work, but in small doses, like this short story.

Like Murakami, Kundera uses elements of magical realism, but where in a Murakami story you might encounter a flying dolphin or a disappearing hotel or a person who has lived his whole life in the same room, refusing to leave, Kundera's magical realism offers more direct insights and perspective on real life.

In Kundera's worlds, time and space are malleable and everything that ever happened in history is happening at the same time, and the narrator is a completely omniscient, caring, witty, and hands-on god-like being.

And so it is with "The Apo…

New Yorker Fiction Reviews: "Meet the President!" by Zadie Smith

Each week I review the short fiction from a recent issue of The New Yorker. If you told me when I was 12 that I'd be doing this I'd have been like, "Dork. There's no such thing as blogs," and I'd have been right...

Issue: Aug. 12 & 19, 2013

Story: "Meet the President!"

Author:Zadie Smith

(Please note: I've developed a highly sophisticated grading system, which I'll be using from now on.  Each story will now receive a Final Grade of either READ IT or DON'T READ it. See the bottom of the review for this story's grade...after you've read the review, natch.)

Plot: Set in England, far into the future (lets say 2113) a privileged youth of 15, named Bill Peek, encounters a few poor villagers from a small, abandoned coastal town on the southeast shore. He meets a little girl named Aggie, who is going to her sister's funeral. Peek is cut-off from real life by a sophisticated video game system that is implanted in his head, therefore th…

A Piece of Advice I Learned From My Grandfather

My grandfather was one of the most learned men I know. He read widely and voraciously, and not just in the sciences (he was a doctor); he loved politics, philosophy, and great literature as well. Whenever he finished a book he would write his thoughts about the book in the front cover and then sign and date it. To this day every once in a while I will open a book from my bookshelf or my mother's bookshelf, or at one of my family members' homes, and there will be my grandfather's handwriting. He was also a great giver of his books; if you remarked that you liked a particular one or wanted to read it, you were almost sure to take it home with you.

Reading is a very solitary pursuit but my grandfather was not a solitary person. He relished having family and friends around him which is convenient because he was blessed with a lot of both. And he carried out his intellectual life in a very "public" way as well. He was, in some ways, an intellectual evangelist. If he r…