TWISTS EN ROUTE A TALE
Two-page review of Michael Afenfia’s Don’t Die On a Wednesday
Title: Don’t Die On a Wednesday
Publisher: Origami Books, Lagos (Parresia imprint).
Publication Year: 2014
If Michael Afenfia’s idea of writing his third novel, Don’t Die On a Wednesday aboard*a supersonic jet was to speed up the pace of the narrative, he’s right on the Mach! What a smooth, fast-flowing prose!
Rather than a grand central theme, the novel tickles with several sub-themes each with its own brand of strip-tease of surprises. Much of it though, is looped around the central character, the English premier league professional footballer Bubaraye, whose fortunes and misfortunes on and off the pitch populate the pages from beginning to end.
Perhaps the sub-themes can be summed up by way of plotting the x and y axes of the other characters. Step up, Nikiwe, Bubaraye’s hard-won wife, an expensively assembled South African ex-beauty queen who still sees the world as a runway. Still basking in her pageant exploits she leaves much more on the reader than her haunting proportions. Niki is a chip off the old romance block, a whiff of Nadege in Teju Cole’s Open City, hard to pin down to any social habitation. After missing out on a starring role in Footballers’ Wives television series following her husband career-ending injury, she still gets herself film auditions in London’s innermost social circuits with an agent that ends up casting, not Niki, but her husband, in a big-time role of a cuckold. For real! Still, the reader would equally remember her as the dotting mother of a four year old boy whom she so loves that she has to engineer his kidnap, a feint that goes as horribly as it possibly could, putting the combined security apparatus of Nigeria, UK and South Africa in a frenzy and, finally, drawing her into the coolest corner of the darkest prison cell, way beyond the script of the consummate artiste that she was.
Next up is Tivovo, Bubaraye’s just-reconciled half-brother who with Niki plots his kid nephew’s fake kidnap with the help of a gangster who, in hijacking the ‘kidnap’ plot and making it real, exposes the naivety of Tivovo and Niki.
Don’t Die On a Wednesday would be much tighter without the encumbrance of multiple sub-plotting or, if such sub-plots were more tightly woven into the Bubaraye central narrative. One such sub-plot throws up the Reverend Onari D’Aziba, a new generation church General Overseer whose soon-to-be-estranged teen son, Sese, with restless loins, nurtures his belle’s teen pregnancy into a scandal that threatens to consume the General Overseer and his church. A stillbirth appears to have resolved the problem for the moment only for the presumed stillborn child to turn up, years later, a big girl, spicing up Buba’s intriguing matchmaking efforts. With a family reconciliation saga of its own, this excess luggage could easily constitute its own, separate storyline.
The twists and turns come aplenty. The romp between filmmaker Nareej and Niki ends abruptly after the author had build up the reader’s appetite for a longer haul. Bubaraye visits the hospital for his routine physiotherapy only to find himself entrapped by his own smooth talking. Before long he and his young female doctor and therapist, Pelumi, suddenly have the hots for each other and all roads lead to a revenge affair for Niki’s infidelity (think Richard, Kainene and her twin sister in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun) when a tryst with Pelumi suddenly veers off route, ending in the bizarrest of matchmaking efforts to nuptially rope in his star footballer, Sese and Pelumi! Similarly, you thought there was more to the late-into-the-night chess games between Buba’s wife and Brother Tivovo, but no, Afenfia is indeed a master of the red herring game! The greatest of the twists is Sese’ flight into oblivion for which nothing could have prepared the reader.
The kidnap episode – or rather – Niki’s rationale for it, constitutes some of the few episodes that beggar belief in this turbo-paced cliffhanger that sits somewhere between literary fiction and genre fiction.
The novel reads like it was originally conceived as a film script and subsequently fleshed out to provide the ‘novel’ dimension of depth, authorial perspective, character delineation, etc. Much of this though, is truncated by the multiple sub-plotting . The author appeared too eager to imbue each character with a mission that he often forgot his characterization kit and left his characters all ‘work’ and little ‘self’. There is a sense of a missing quotidian. The quirks and foibles, those little undefinables that the reader recalls and savours over and over, or which make a reader pause and reflect, are only sparsely in evidence. There is also the infusion of a couple of Shakespearean dramatic episodes that, because they do not fit into Shakespeare’s well constructed drama and his Elizabethan sensibilities, stand bizarrely out of place like a sore foot. An instance is the implausible reliance on Pelumi’s eavesdropping to unravel Niki and Tivovo as the kidnap conspirators. Which would perhaps raise fewer questions if the novel were mere genre fiction, an abbreviated whodunit rather than literary fiction.
This and a few lexical faux pas aside, (lightening for lightning, for instance), Don’t Die On a Wednesday has, through its own twists and turns, much like the silky skills of its footballer hero, earned for itself a nice little corner in a refined mind’s shelf. It is a brilliant read, particularly for connoisseurs of pacy suspense.
Review type: Two page version of the normally one-page review series. Other novels reviewed under the series include: Orlando Dokubo, The Arm Twist, Lola Shoneyin, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives; Binyavanga Wainaina, One Day I Will Write About This Place, Teju Cole, Open City; Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, I Do Not Come to You by Chance; Eghosa Imasuen, Fine Boys, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Americana. Publishers with just-off-the-press mints can reach me via email: email@example.com or inbox me at facebook.com/anaele Ihuoma.
*aboard a supersonic jet: Please make that fictional.