Monday, December 19, 2016

Strangely Wonderful

I don't remember how I first became aware of Helen Oyeyemi. I want to blame Twitter. I'm going to blame Twitter. That isn't important. The important part is that I now have knowledge of her and am the better for it. At 32, she is my age (about a month younger than me if we are being technical) and has written five novels, two plays and one short story collection. The word 'accomplished' pops up. She's very accomplished.

I fell in love with the descriptions of her books. I mean you read this one for Mr. Fox and try not to be a little curious:

It’s a bright afternoon in 1938 and Mary Foxe is in a confrontational mood. St John Fox, celebrated novelist, hasn’t seen her in six years. He’s unprepared for her afternoon visit, not least because she doesn’t exist. He’s infatuated with her. But he also made her up.
“You’re a villain,” she tells him. ‘A serial killer . . . can you grasp that?”
Will Mr Fox meet his muse’s challenge, to stop murdering his heroines and explore something of love? What will his wife Daphne think of this sudden change in her husband? Can there be a happy ending – this time?- from


And so I have endeavored to read all of her books. They are wonderfully strange books. She has a tendency to tell a story in a story and then sneak another story in there. These stories feel normal at first but then there is a subtle twist. That twist usually opens up the story. Sometimes, this works for me and to be honest, sometimes I'd rather not.

My favorite of her works is Boy, Snow, Bird. It is more grounded than Mr. Fox and the most cohesive of works that I've read. It is the story of a White woman (Boy) who marries into an Black family but doesn't realize it until her daughter is born. They have been passing for generations. She also has stepdaughter who appears to be eerily perfect and after the birth of her daughter, Boy sees her as a threat. In this novel, Oyeyemi manages to wrap multiple stories into one beautiful package.

Helen Oyeyemi is more than accomplished. She's a creator of worlds that are heavy but whimsical. She has a flow that is at once complicated but feels effortless. I like to imagine her having one weird thought and making it a whole story. And that's how it feels. As though she wakes up in the morning and says to herself "What if this weird thing?" and then after a crapload of work, a book comes out.
A book that feels like no one else had this 'what if' thought.

So far I've read two of her novels and her collection of short stories. I really look forward to reading more.