In a recent interview on NPR’s Weekend Edition, Scott Simon spoke to Lesley Nneka Arimah days before the publication of her highly anticipated debut story collection. Why, he asked, did she think post-apocalyptic worlds hold so much interest for today’s readers? The answer she gave suggests her own fascination has as much to do with temperament as with our particular times. “At some point, we all know deep down that we’re doomed. And so I think we’re just sort of imagining the futures that are coming,” Arimah said, calling herself “a pessimist. I do think that human nature has sort of proven time and time again that we will indulge our baser impulses.”
In What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky, her new book, dark turns come in many forms, from the fantastic to the grimly realistic. Arimah sets her fiction in Nigeria (where she spent part of her childhood) and in the U.S. (one of the many places in the world where she has lived)—in the present and in the imagined future. In “What Is A Volcano?,” she evokes a mythic domain of feuding gods. She delivers affecting accounts of parent-child struggles, and sketches surrealist scenarios in which dolls come to life and the dead haunt the living. An undertow of grief pulls hard on all of the book’s tales, most of which feature characters who are in some way bereft—usually missing one parent. The family members who stick around are quite often cruel to one another. At the very least, they are afraid to show anything like kindness. Heartbreak and vulnerability are the common threads.