Book Review: Pain and Deceit in Ayobami Adebayo’s ‘Stay With Me’
Book Title: Stay With Me
Author: Ayobami Adebayo
Publisher: Canongate Books, 2017
Reviewer: Joseph Omotayo
Stay With Me will make a perfect movie script.This novel is a typical soap opera in print. Ayobami Adabayo built her characters to actively engage the reader. So many things engage the reader in this book, characterisation is just a part of them. The use of engaging stereotypes to shock is another. Nothing is new in this book. The themes are issues we have read and come across in many books. Childlessness, sickle cell anaemia, Nigeria’s political crisis, and family tension are common staples in our movies and songs. We know almost everything about them, or do we? Maybe not. Stay With Me revitalises these issues in ways that shock us anew. Every page in this book reeks of shock and tension. There is no space for the reader to stop and breathe. Stay With Me is carefully written prose soused in dramatic effects and tension. This book will stick with the reader. A book suffused with drama always does that.
Exploring the various offshoots of patriarchy, this book depicts the lurid otherness of women in the society. Yejide attempts to break this ceiling of female limitation, but fate plays a stubborn bitch. With a university degree, she seems to have scaled higher but childlessness pulls her several rungs down. This novel is an interlocking series of stories: there is that almost perfect love story between Yejide and Akin; there is also another part of the stories showing society’s misplaced expectations of women; and another side telling the story of sacrifices, resignation and willful ignorance in the face of unavoidable gloom. Above all, the portrayal of deep pains and pyrrhic attempts to recover from them will always get the reader. Ayobami Adebayo etches pains on her characters. Every one of them is struggling against something, none is free. Yejide suffers rejection, Akin struggles to prove his masculinity, Dotun strives against the many forces of his carefreeness.
This is the story of a love gone wrong. Stay With Me is very invested in the many complications of living. This book shows how nothing is ever as simple as it appears, and how nothing is certain. When Yejide meets Akin, it seems Yejide’s world has found completeness. However, life happened, and like life, everything runs into a cul-de-sac. This shows the fragility of happiness where nothing good lasts forever. Stay With Me forks up the uncertainties of life with beautiful language use. This is what every reader will love in this book. One wonders how Ayobami Adebayo invents punchy meanings with everyday words. Nothing makes good fiction like language:
“The reasons why we do the things we do will not always be the ones that others will remember. Sometimes I think we have children because we want to leave behind someone who we were to the world when we are gone.”
Stay With me shows a family riddled with painful deceit. A naïve Yejide marries Akin, and their union becomes the setting for the many domestic problems that can arise from childlessness. Here, we see how external families’ intervention can worsens things. As expected, everybody puts Yejide down for not having a child. In a society that places premium on children as a fulfillment in marriage, impotence could be as devastating as HIV. Ayobami Adebayo smoothly captures all that could possibly go wrong in that kind of marriage. In an attempt to rescue Yejide and himself, Akin sets up the family’s final undoing as Dotun (Akin’s brother) does more than being his ‘brother’s keeper’. Stay With Me is layered with intrigue.
Nostalgia easily gets us but more so when it is captured in its very essence. This is another thing Ayobami Adebayo exquisitely does with language. The human sense of longing and memory is crystallised with apt expressions abutting on the writer’s choice of words. When Ayobami Adebayo calls up this sense of nostalgia, the reader is deeply moved. One is hooked from the beginning of the novel:
“I must leave this city today and come to you. My bags are packed and the empty rooms remind me that I should have left a week ago…. But my bags still sits in the living room gathering dust…. There’s a house waiting for me in Ife, right outside the university where you and I first met. I imagine it now, a house not unlike this one…”
This shows her knack for using language to create subtleties; she is talking about everything even as she appears not to be doing so. Here, Yejide tucks in her repulsion between words in an astounding way:
“Although sleep stays away, every night I shut my eyes and pieces of the life I left behind come back to me. I see the batik pillowcases in our bedroom, our neighbours and your family which, for a misguided period, I thought was also mine. I see you.”
If a debut could be this good, then you should read it.