These nine casually interlocking stories, set in a familiar yet surreal contemporary world, overflow with the cerebral humor and fantastical plots that readers have come to expect from Oyeyemi (Boy Snow Bird, 2014).
The opener, "Books and Roses," sets the tone: stories within stories and a fittingly cockeyed view of Gaudi’s architecture as two women in Barcelona share their experiences in abandonment while searching for the loved ones who left them behind. Most of the volume takes place in England, with nods toward Eastern Europe. In " 'Sorry' Doesn’t Sweeten Her Tea," weight-loss clinician Anton becomes increasingly involved in raising his boyfriend’s two adolescent daughters, Aisha and Dayang, while fishsitting for a traveling friend. The story seems straightforward until Anton’s friend falls in long-distance love with a mystery woman who's entered his locked house without a key and Anton’s co-worker Tyche helps Aisha recover from a crisis in disillusionment by casting a spell from the Greek goddess Hecate. Tyche returns as a student puppeteer in "Is Your Blood as Red as This?," which layers creepy echoes of Pinocchio onto realistically genuine adolescent sexual confusion. Readers realize Tyche’s fellow students Radha and Myrna have ended up sexually happy-ever-after when they pop up in "Presence" to lend their shared apartment to a psychologist so she and her grief-counselor husband can carry out the ironically eponymous science-fiction experiment that forces the psychologist to accept the absences in her life. While Aisha appears as a filmmaker employing puppets in "Freddy Barrandov Checks…In?," Dayang stars as ingénue in "A Brief History of the Homely Wench Society," a post-feminist romantic comedy about warring men's and women’s societies at Cambridge. Several stories are pure fairy tale, like "Dornicka and the St. Martin’s Day Goose," a twisted take on "Little Red Riding Hood,” and "Drownings," in which good intentions defeat a murderous tyrant.
For all the portentous metaphors (keys and locks appear in every story) and all the convoluted and fabulist narrations, Oyeyemi’s stories are often cheerfully sentimental.