“Redemption” closes out What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky, and it does so with a brilliant story that does so much in the space of a short time, but keeps it all alight at once: the weight of disbelief in the face of sexual abuse, the confusing tangle of emotions when a young girl starts to feel for another woman, societal presumptions, infidelities, hypocrisies of faith and justice… there is so much in “Redemption” it’s astounding, and that the whole is just this sublime narrative? Well, that’s the joy that is reading Lesley Nneka Arimah, I think.
I should also point out how the author has this way of injecting little asides of humour into her stories that drop into the reader’s experience like tiny flashes of light among what could otherwise be pretty relentless. There’s one line in particular in this story that had me bark out a laugh mid-walk (the dog jumped), where the main character considers her older neighbour is “very old, creeping on that age when life begins to lose all meaning, fifty, I think.” I had to stop the audiobook and rewind just so I could write down the phrasing. It’s just so perfect, such a precision of character, and all of Lesley Nneka Arimah’s characters felt like that to me throughout the collection—especially when they were delightfully imperfect women being themselves.
As a whole, I don’t think I can sing the praises of the collection enough, but “Redemption” one of the strongest anchor stories I’ve read in a long time. A girl who has withstood a disgrace that was in no way her fault, and for whom there was no justice and only punishment in the eyes of everyone around her, has power over so little. Her developing feelings for someone else shift, and her buried furies and angers and desire to be as callous (and perhaps even cruel) as others nudges the story forward inch by inch to the conclusion, and I ended the collection with a long and careful exhale.