Afenfia’s Novel of Unintended Crimes against Storytelling: Don’t Die On Wednesday
First, it is the intention of this reviewer to state that (while I am in no way trying to assume tutor on how to write a story), Don’t Die On Wednesday, a novel by Michael Afenfia passes at some level to be fiction, well-intended narrative. It should not be mistaken as a story, at least not a complete one – yet not without reasons.
About the novel: an international club-side football star, Bubaraye, meets misfortune by a ‘freak’ accident at the height of a football match which terminates his football career for good. He has to deal with this, his choice of relocating from England to Nigeria and the ramifications, and disagreements with his wife Nikiwe, one-time Miss South Africa. At the surface, this is the storyline the reader takes home but the mature reader becomes misdirected along the read as the narrative begin to scatter and plotlines mislead them. Many things do not add up – conflict, plot, theme, characters and coincidences. The reader of this novel is dragged here and there.
The central character, Bubaraye, so to say, suffers many conflicts, true. We deduce from the story that Bubaraye as a character is the homely kind, thus is quite traumatised by the sudden change and crises in his life. He has a disagreeing and deceitful wife to deal with, who plots as a gimmick, the kidnap of their son that later turned sour. There’s the holding up after his plummeted fortune as a footballer. He bears the cultured burden of respecting the memory of his late mother. There are grudges with his father who wasn’t there for him as a child; and then the kidnap of his three years old son. It is pertinent that this review points out major conflicts in the novel as done above to make a case – that they do not reconcile with the title of the novel. And inherent is a discrepant trajectory the novel is ridden with..
The novel is divided into two major parts: First Half (chapters 1 to 10) which runs from Sunday to Tuesday; Second Half (chapters 11 to 25) which runs from Wednesday to Saturday. Each preceded by poems ‘Don’t Die On Wednesday’ I and II and bisected by a Half Time. These poems have nothing to contribute to the storyline, and against assumption, the story seems to be set in more than one week (even stretching to months) as suggested by the breakdown of the parts. Oddly so, it also ends on a Wednesday, not Saturday (more on this later). The symbolism of first halves and second halves, and days in the week if employed does not make its mark. The reader begs to question if the writer knows what he’s doing.
Coincidence and crisis are near artificial only to the bargain of the writer. As with the case of the ‘freak’ accident, both reader and writer cannot tell exactly what happened, only that Bubaraye jumped onto a crowd of cheering fans and Jack Robinson. This is not a movie script where in the making a stunt covers up for narrative slack.
Owing to this bargain of coincidence, characters spring out of nowhere into the storyline with misplaced conflicts out of the sphere of the main theme which drags the story here and there. There’s the introduction of a character in particular, Sese, whose story begins in the opening chapters of Second Half. The role of Sese plays little or nothing to the development of the story yet the writer devotes a whole lot of the novel to this character. What this does is that it creates another story ‘riding solo’ in the whole story – a waste of precious time and pages.
Plots, too, ride solo. One doesn’t follow the other so that at the end of the read, everything ends up nowhere. The culminating plotline, the kidnap of Bubaraye’s son, takes its own trajectory, leaving the rest of the story behind. It does nothing either to hold the story together. This particular part of the story entails Nikiwe’s risking a staged kidnap of her son to create a faux climate of threat that’d goad the husband to send her and the boy off to England where she can be happy. What this tells the reader is that perhaps the whole story has been about Nikiwe, her gamble through marriage (she couldn’t have settled for marriage as learned from the story), and discontent with everything that led to the family relocating to Nigeria. From a vantage I began to think Nikiwe as central character (which will overhaul the entire theme of the story) would have made a better story, as her conflicts and how she confronts them form a cohesive theme. My take is not far-fetched. Even as the writer tries to sell the novel being about football a blurb on the novel couldn’t help attributing the novel as a story about marriage!
The fine diction used in Don’t Die doesn’t help to salvage it from its crimes as it is in itself a crime. Every character speaks in figures of speech exemplar to a seasoned literatus the reader is forced to sense authorial intrusion – characters speak in a diction just like their creator. On this note, I beg to say like it has been said before, a story is not judged by its high-flying grammar but by its capturing and fulfillment of literary attainment.
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Owing to the title alone, the story captures nothing in particular related to Wednesday. There’s no metaphorical, symbolic or allegoric inference alluding to Wednesday and a precariousness to the nature considering the phrase don’t die. On a rather odd note, where Wednesday gets a mention is in the events that culminated to the end of the story surrounding with a minor character.
‘It was a horrible Wednesday when the plane went missing.’ (p. 258)
Sese, who wounded up in a local football club in Lagos owned by Bubaraye went MIA along an aircraft from UK bound for Nigeria, crushing the expectations of family, friends and well-wishers back home. This part is the most insignificant of the whole story. (Artificial Coincidence Alert!) This part appears in what looks like an epilogue of the story, but what it interprets as an epilogue is unfounded. At this point, the reader is justified in his or her stance to dismiss the novel as a joke. While other crimes in the novel perhaps remain unintended; the title is a complete fraud.
At the end of reading a novel like Don’t Die On Wednesday, there’s supposed to be a gratification that even with its not-making-sense, the book still has to make sense in some little way. But there are more crimes. In Half Time, an interlude before the second part of the novel, written in italics, the reader is confused as to whose voice it is. Is it Bubaraye’s? Is it the writer’s? If it is the writer’s, is it part of the fiction (story) or non-fiction as the thoughts recorded therein suggest? Some part of it read: ‘I wish people would see things my way…’ (p. 106). And in the closing pages in what reads like an epilogue titled Final Whistle, following the second part of the novel (also written in italics) records the events surrounding a minor character!
These distortions in the story build up and wind up, and the ending-up-nowhere flaw further misdirects the reader. Adding to overbearing commentary and run-around dialogues that Don’t Die is replete with, it makes a brain strainer of itself.
On other concerns: the novel made it to a national prize, in fact ANA. This reviewer’s problem is not how it made its way to the ANA Prize but the idea it sells to the general literary community. So much for unintended crimes.