Disasters, natural or otherwise, can strike at any time. They can be devastating and completely change the lives of everyone they touch and force them to pivot in a new direction. Some people are able to rise to the challenge, others are swept away and others simply go on existing.
The process of how people deal with disasters are unique to them and The Storm by Akeem Balogun puts this concept to the test. In a sprawling collection that spans thirteen short stories, Balogun examines themes of loneliness, self-deception, mental health and adversity to stunning effect.
“We took up arms. We killed. We became monsters. When peace finally washed away the blood, we let our weapons go, and we looked at those who we had wanted to be reflections of our compassion and saw in the mirror of their eyes that we were now ugly.” – An extract from ‘Soulmate.’
Trauma and change
Balogun’s collection is set against the backdrop of a terrible storm that crackles through all the stories like a monster lurking in the shadows.
All the characters are aware that it’s there, that it’s changed their lives, but it’s intangible. It’s a feeling that can’t be shaken and a reminder that the world can never go back to the way it used to be. As a narrative device, the storm works as a way to bind all the tales together. There’s a wider story that’s told over years and individual stories that can be enjoyed one at a time.
Every character has a specific trauma that they have to deal with. In ‘Eden’ it’s the loss of a family member. In ‘Benjamin’s Mansion’ it’s the sensation of wanting to leave behind a memory that matters. In ‘Buddhatarium’ it’s the struggle of learning to let go.
These themes are universal and painfully human. Even when some of the characters believe they’ve moved on from the storm, it doesn’t take much to bring them back to the moment where everything changed and they repeat the behaviours that they tried so desperately to shed.
An ethereal writing style
Balogun’s prose is deliberate and dreamlike. The pace lulls the reader along, bringing them into the mind of each protagonist effortlessly. It’s an ethereal kind of writing style that reminded me of Haruki Murakami. There’s a focus on the material and the immaterial that definitely appealed to my inner fantasy nerd.
The versatility of the author should be noted as well. All the stories are different and carry a unique style that sets them apart from the one that came before. A good example is ‘Marc Populaire,’ which is written as a series of phone messages. Then there’s ‘The Weatherman,’ presented in the perspective of a woman who might not be all there.
The Storm will always keep you guessing and nothing is ever as it seems. It’s an impressive, relatable and deeply touching debut from an author that’s on the rise.