Reviewed by Erica Ball
A raw look at those crucial moments when the realities of life are laid bare
No God Like the Mother by Kesha Ajọsẹ-Fisher is a story collection that explores pivotal moments in the lives of women and girls. Though the settings and details of the stories vary widely, from naive young girls in Nigeria to grieving mothers in Portland, each one functions as a glimpse of the defining moment of a person’s life story.
In some ways it’s similar to seeing the climax of a movie without the context of the beginning or the end. This could easily be confusing, but Ajọsẹ-Fisher is such a skilled storyteller that she provides the reader just enough to feel they know what they need to know.
She does this through concise but lush descriptions of place, but more so in simple evocative character analysis. She delves into the wrought relationship the characters have with their own bodies, their identity, their sexuality, their children, or their most intimate partners. The subject matter lays bare the very core of the character as most of the conflicts revolve around sexuality, reproduction, and the near-constant presence of sexism and misogyny. In most of the stories, all this is complicated further by the interplay of race, poverty, and trauma.
Readers see these characters through their unfiltered reactions to these things. They are all trying to assert their own agency and control. These people are noticing where they are, reflecting on life and explicitly deciding what they want to change. They are figuring out and seeking what they need in their present or in the future, whether that be security, money, relationships, and/or understanding.
Most striking is just how lovingly drawn these characters are by an author that has a great deal of compassion and understanding of humans and their shortcomings. Even those being brutal are depicted with glimpses of the hurt behind their brutality. Though the tone of these stories is often dark, it finds itself more on the candid side than the graphic side. There are frequent but unexpected, moments of humor and joy sprinkled alongside the difficult subject matter.
In this way the book as a whole is about resilience and hope, exquisite as the pain of that might be. There is so much love in every story, from the author’s own empathy to the relationships depicted. In fact, these short stories are just long enough for readers to thoroughly fall in love with the characters themselves and become invested in their futures. Some readers may feel that a couple of the stories end ambiguously or without enough resolution. This is a testament to the fact that they wish there was simply more story there. In fact, a number of the stories have plenty to offer as the skeleton for a novella or full-length novel.
In all, No God Like the Mother is a quietly devastating and frank look at the interplay between hope and grief that is experienced by someone whose body can produce life. It is also about the way others throughout the world have historically reacted to that ability with fear, desire, shame, or a combination of those and more.
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