03 Jun A Review of Ever Obi’s Men Don’t Die
By Tope Oyegoke*
Brume Lauva is a naïf whose world need only consist of small material wealth for him to be happy or, if that can’t be, of a woman he loves, to live with forever. He is an archetypal nonstarter whose struggles epitomise those of many others, especially the average Nigerian undergraduate, who persistently moils to have a major breakthrough and continually seeks their dream job. In his debut novel, Men Don’t Die, Ever Obi espouses this idea of a man manacled to his failure and fate with a metaphysical twist.
The story opens with a hallucinatory realism. Brume is awakened from sleep by his father who came to visit in the early hours of the morning to give him a pep talk about life. He is riddled by the encounter and finds it strange:
“Daddy?” Brume called. “Dad!” Eddie did not turn; he kept walking until he was out of sight.
Brume shrugged and closed the door.
That was quite weird, he thought, but he made up his mind that he was not going to think much of this strange visit. (pg. 15)
Barely a minute after the encounter, he receives a call to say that he should come and identify his father in a morgue. He simply brushes it away that it must be a mistake, that he just talked to his father. It’s pertinent to note his denial of tragedy here is not uncommon. When it comes to the issue of fatality, many people like to think misfortune or anything of the sort is abstract, that their life is too insignificant to be its target. His denial here can also be interpreted as a reminder of how flimsy what we take to be reality is, and that there are phenomena surrounding the tapestry of our reality we still generally know little about. These are among the focal themes of Ever Obi’s Men Don’t Die. The title itself is downright ironic in the context of the protagonist. It is a doublespeak examining some phenomena of our reality.
Obi’s creative way of affirming the bizarre mundanity of daily life is also philosophical. Freud says one does not become a man until their father dies. This can be true in the case of Brume. Although we could see from the excerpt above his confused and indifferent disposition to his father’s visit, he couldn’t close the door of his mind to the image of his father and that visit stays with him. He metaphorically becomes a man afterwards and tries to lead his life responsibly and hopefully, as his father admonished.
Five years later, Brume has taken heed of his father’s last words of advice to him, to take up a menial job not befitting his qualification at a factory where his father himself worked and died. Another piece of advice he has not fulfilled is that he should marry his heartthrob, Yaya, and then everything good will come. To fulfil the second extropy given by his father, he proposes to Yaya. But his girlfriend of seven years publicly declines and instead opts to go with someone with material comfort, to secure her future from constant want.
To compound his woe, Brume is let off at the factory where he receives stipends. He is now tormented by his memories of Yaya, and his failure as a young man mocks him every day. He writes a long poetic suicide note, but his inner voice of rationality won’t let him carry out the act on the two occasions he attempted it.
One day, by a twist of fate, a fortune, or some loot, is tossed his way:
What is in these bags? He asked himself. I should open them and see for myself. A second thought: Or I should just leave them and leave this scene. A third thought: let me just see what is inside. What’s the big deal?
As he opened the first bag, his eyeballs bulged, and his lips parted wide open. He shook his head and opened the second one – the same content! Brume felt it with the tip of his fingers, and it was real; the two bags were filled with stashes of money. (pg. 131-132)
But this is only the beginning of his problem. The dreaded robber who tossed the loot in Brume’s direction, when the robber was trying to evade police chase, is now looking for him. Off to Lagos Brume flees without even telling his intimate friend from childhood. What he left behind is his forgotten suicide note. His bus crashes on the way to Lagos and all the passengers are killed; he is surprised he is not dead and finds himself in Lagos saved by a Samaritan. He starts living his dream with the loot he now claims to be his. But did he really survive the crash? And this completes the transformation of Brume from a naïf to a complex character; here begins a shift in his reality.
Obi: the novelist has a grip on the afterlife theme, but there are cases of longueurs in the plot, in which he expends unnecessary details on minor characters and events that only needed to be in passing.
Men Don’t Die by Ever Obi is a metaphysical story with themes ranging from friendship, material poverty, fate, death, and the afterlife amongst others. It is a suspenseful and poignant story that is most remarkable in the way it is narrated. One of the literary techniques Obi uses in embellishing the plot is flashback, which enriches the character of Brume, as through flashbacks the reader gets to know more details about his life and experiences which shape him. It motivates our empathy for the character, such that almost every reader would wish a different ending for the book.
As clever as this technique is put into use, there are cases of longueurs in the plot, in which the author expends unnecessary details on minor characters and events that only needed to be in passing, and thus makes the plot drag. Mr. Obi needs to learn the art of minimalism if he is planning to write another novel. And there are places he falls into stereotypical and formulaic descriptions of characters: ‘She was sweating and her face was gradually turning pale.’ (pg. 150) and:
An ugly man stepped into Don Benson Street. He was huge and had a very dark skin. His complexion, combined with a black t-shirt and black jeans, seemed enough to force the sun to hide in the clouds. Though he had a baseball cap and a pair of sunglasses on, it was quite easy for anyone who cares to take a quick glance to see that he was ugly. His nose was broad, and his nostrils wide open like the holes in a double-barrelled gun. Then his lips were full, dark, and thick. With the long scar across his face and an evil goatee hanging from his chin, he had the meanest face one could ever imagine seeing in the morning. (pg. 142)
This only appears jejune and Nollywoodish, instead of instilling the desired dread of the character in the reader. The author’s emphasis is on ugliness as if it is the prerequisite for dreadfulness and notoriousness.
These faults notwithstanding, Men Don’t Die is a commendable read for anyone who has been fascinated by questions of the supernatural and afterlife.
- This review first appeared as a feature piece on bookartville.com