A Loud Grief: A Review of Onyi Nwabineli’s Someday, Maybe – Michigan Quarterly Review
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A Loud Grief: A Review of Onyi Nwabineli’s Someday, Maybe

“Death in general elicits questions, the most invasive of which is how?” writes Onyi Nwabineli in Someday, Maybe. Eve Ezenwa-Morrow, the novel’s protagonist, has lost her husband, Quentin Morrow, to suicide. After his death on an undated New Year’s Eve, she is so pinioned by the resulting grief that a new persona emerges: an “Eve of Now,” irrefutably distinctive from the “Eve of Before.” 

The new Eve refuses to eat, is constantly nostalgic, and villainizes her mother-in-law. An English graduate working at a magazine called “Circle,” Eve’s voice is poetic, multifaceted, and poignant. Nwabineli’s evocative writing establishes the character of her protagonist via soliloquies in which she delineates grief and its expanse, often done with brief flips in narration from the first-person to an illustrative second person: “Nobody tells you how the first time you laugh after a major bereavement will destroy you,” Eve says. Laughter becomes alien to Eve after her husband’s death, and she has no desire to find happiness despite pressure from her family to move on. She is instead “content to wallow in [grief’s] cesspit for all eternity because it is like poking at a mouth ulcer with the tip of your tongue—inadvisable, painful, but addictive.”

Nwabineli’s writing simmers with poignant imagery, a testament to the heart-wrenching nature of grief. Individual memories of Quentin haunt Eve so much that she feels responsible for not just his death but also the “seismic shift” it came with. For Aspen, Eve’s mother-in-law, this shift means a sudden acrid disposition to Eve, as though she is solely responsible for Quentin’s suicide. This grief propels a stark resentment which Nwabineli excels at depicting. The drama between Aspen and Eve—from funeral arrangements to an imbroglio over a possible suicide note from Quentin—is plausible and relatable for a British-Nigerian family, one where Eve is taught how to make bitter leaf into ofe onugbu, where her sister speaks pidgin when annoyed.

Aspen’s character is akin to the clichéd persona of the black-hearted mother-in-law present in a plethora of Nigerian movies. The black-hearted mother-in-law, typically obsessed with her son and his properties, sidelines her daughter-in-law whilst yearning for grandchildren or eccentric wishes. Through Aspen’s dialogue, Nollywood fans can envision this persona. One might even imagine yet another version of Patience Ozokwor, one of the veteran actors known for such roles.

Nwabineli, however, transcends such clichés. Aspen’s idiosyncrasies are compounded by grief in a manner unmatched by Nollywood classics centering women such as King of Boys, the phenomenal 2018 political thriller, and Blackberry Babes, the 2011 comedy released back when Blackberry phones were in vogue. While these movies center lavish aesthetics and defiant female characters, Nwabineli succeeds at situating compelling women amidst a whirlwind of excruciating grief. Belinda, Eve’s best friend, called “Bee,” is described as a “vision” and “looks like she’s strolled out of the pages of a Vogue fashion editorial.” Gloria, Eve’s sister, a protective lawyer, “has little time for people screwing up at work.”

If there is any flaw in the novel, it is its hitchy transitions. Grief becomes such a palpable force that the plot is subsumed in a rather aggravated web of trauma. There are four parts of the novel: “Home,” “Work, “Away,” and “Home Again.” After the novel transitions from “Home” to “Work,” one notes obtrusive narrative switches and contrived momentum. Eve tries to return to work but her breakdown is further exacerbated, and soon she is laid off. Her brother begins working at Circle, the same company where Eve was fired. Eve falls from a bike one day and discovers she is pregnant. Not much is given on the child’s eventual birth aside from a vignette in the epilogue. The succession of events yields a landslide of trauma that justifies Eve’s grief and the ensuing anxiety but ultimately compresses her character. Eve becomes pitiable, depressing. And yet, despite this compression, Eve remains indelible. Through Eve’s subconscious fears and glaring dissonance, Nwabineli depicts the stark aftereffects of grief. Nwabineli, gesturing toward the novel’s melodrama and psychodynamic undercurrents, mentions Sigmund Freud in a conversation between Eve and Nate. Freud argued that the human mind entails three distinct parts: the conscious, the preconscious, and the unconscious. According to him, unconscious desires and impulses influence human behavior. Psychoanalysis, a method of exploring the unconscious mind, thus gives individuals insight into their own behavior.

For the novelist, psychoanalysis may be a vehicle to explore the behaviors and desires of multidimensional characters, by delving into their unconscious minds. Nwabineli’s writing does this, unveiling unconscious worlds with compelling temerity and sincerity. As Eve goes to group therapy and attends a posthumous photography retreat featuring Quentin’s photographs, she reminisces about their first days together and is faced with the stark prospect of mothering their child singlehandedly. The novel is submerged in loud grief, one where Eve does not know how to “mourn in silence…and make others comfortable.” Though such grief might seem like aggravated melodrama at many junctures in the novel, it is feasible and powerful nonetheless, especially in a culture where Nollywood, and Nigerian literature, rarely center grieving women the way this laudable debut novel does.  

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