The Storm is a debut short story collection from Akeem Balogun, a collection with interlinked characters and sprawling narrative that takes place during a cataclysmic storm, a storm that the world has never seen before and a storm that seems to have no end. So sit back and enjoy this almost apocalyptic nightmare told via short story and flash fiction prose.
The Storm is very different from what is flooding the market at present, I’d go as far to say that it is stripped back writing, that the stories are almost bleached down to the bare bones; there is no pomp and ceremony here and no swollen wordsmithery which can come across arrogant. These stories are punchy, crafted well and told with a poetic style to the prose – the storm itself is also a perfect and enticing backdrop which is populated by a fine host of characters.
Akeem Balogun is a very interesting writer and has delivered a well crafted debut that has me thirsty for more of his work, below I will touch on each of the stories that build this interesting world and collection.
‘… as if to speak during the storm’s most vicious moments was to talk over God.’
With the title story The Storm we are thrown right into the unfolding carnage that the storm has brought us, we are at day 11 which shows the reader that things have been going on for some time already. Our small cast of characters in this story are all at work (what they do I’m unsure or may have missed it), stuck in the office and watching the storm ravage and rage outside. The story progresses and we keep coming back a few days later, almost in a diary format which is a great tool used by Balogun which builds the tension and in interests the reader. There’s a recurring character in this story The Weatherman – he for me stole the show, he was a secondary character whom I cared about and was invested in and I also wanted to know more about him, so hats off to Balogun for making me feel this way and adding in those subtle details about his clothes, his complexion and his demeanour – every small part of him had me wanting answers to questions raging in my mind! Then our main protagonist Seun has family that are stuck out west and he’s not heard from them for some time, and so decides to head off into the storm to investigate. A great and powerful start to the collection.
Eden was one of my favourite stories within the collection and this one had a much more science fiction vibe to it (we are four years on from the start of the storm) which had me thinking of Philip K Dick and Ubik. Our protagonist is at a facility which enables people to see and speak with a loved one, someone that was lost to the storm or who has since passed – it also brought to mind What Dreams May Come by Richard Matheson. What I also enjoyed about this story and others in the collection is that they reference other stories – later on in the collection we have a story that mentions visiting Eden to find out some information from someone that is missing – these added layers make the impact to this tight and concise collection all the more enrapturing. I’d have liked a little more detail into the whole practice but I assume Balogun had left this out to enable the tightness of the story, but it did have me wanting just a little bit more. This story and concept would be ripe for expansion into a novella or novel and I for one would be first in line to buy it, if that were ever done!
Seize was a strange story, I enjoyed it – Omar who is part of a motorcycle gang which are currently terrorising jewellery shops; they are profiting and getting away with their crimes, but suddenly the wheels fall off their operation and they are then scattered and running scared. This story in particular felt like it was written prior to the idea of the collection and just shoehorned in with a subtle mention of the storm, it just didn’t have the complexities of the other stories and felt more filler than killer.
Marc Populaire – This was a great story that was told via the tool of left voicemail messages to Marc who is our absent main protagonist. I particularly enjoyed that each message gives more details away of this protagonist we are never going to meet, and the messages reference or add to previous messages creating a whole narrative of what might and could possibly have happened to Marc. Then the penultimate message strikes home and the horror of the piece comes to life – I was thinking many things at this point and the tension that is built by Balogun is powerful and all consuming and as a reader you’re not sure what is about to happen and I enjoyed that Balogun leaves the conclusion of this story to the readers imagination.
Benjamin’s Mansion for me never really got my juices going, again it felt out of place barring a few mentions of the storm. We have a group of friends that have to find something hidden in a mansion during a party and if they find it they get to choose something from the mansion to take home. It was heavy on dialogue and had me confused at many points as I struggled to get to know the characters as they were all thrown into the mix early on without much definition between them. It was a story that seemed heartwarming at its climax but for me it could have been made a little darker and I thought it was going to be, but Balogun veers away from this possible dark twist to leave the reader with a warm fuzzy feeling.
Soulmate was a devastating piece of flash fiction which I loved. The line ‘We took up arms. We killed. We became monsters.’ was a particular highlight for me. What I really enjoyed and loved about this collection was the introduction of flash fiction at certain points, with the flash adding little snapshots of the unfolding carnage and of lives disrupted and destroyed due to the storm.
A Stroke of Madness was the longest story in the collection and had me enraptured from the start to finish, and showcases perfectly what great skill Balogun has when he settles into his stride and produces some longer fiction. This was a sprawling tale that looks into a sisters disappearance, there are hints given through the tightly woven prose at what might have happened – but we also get a brothers infatuation of finding the truth, before the place she went missing is built over and any clues there are lost forever. We also have a significant time jump in this piece as we learn that it is 20 years since the storm first hit, we also have the joy of seeing the ground work of the previous stories coming to fruition here with mentions of ‘why doesn’t he go to Eden and see if she’s there?’ small hints like this show what Balogun could do and offer with a longer piece of fiction, being able to tie in all these threads and create a story that is hard hitting and perfectly paced. This is another great story within the collection and makes me look forward to more longer work from this talented writer in the future.
Room Four is another venture into science fiction, we’re not talking Blade Runner and flying cars we’re looking more at holograms and AI – our protagonist has to go to the bank to see if he can get an extension on his overdraft so he can go on holiday, but for him to do that, he has to speak with his holographic banking officer. What I loved about this is that this could quite easily be a thing of the not too distant future, with electronic banking the way it is; it again reminded me of Philip K Dick and Ray Bradbury (more the technology that was showcased in Fahrenheit 451). This story worked in taking the most mundane of tasks (banking) and turning it on its head with some delightfully crafted science fiction.
An Ill Wind is another delightful palate cleanser of flash fiction – this one focuses on the fire department and could also be seen as a social commentary of our times, underpaid, under appreciated, but when the shit hits the fan, everyone is praising them for what they do, but how quickly we forget their bravery and their need for better support – it’s honest and shoots straight for the heart!
Bonfire Hero was a strange story (strange in a good way) it had me thinking of Tomas Marcantonio’s ‘This Ragged, Wastrel Thing‘. It’s a story of a self proclaimed and self made superhero (called Visionary) who has risen to power from the ashes and the fallout from the storm. He’s currently observing the unfolding drama of Bonfire Night, he’s also in the grips of an existential crisis as he hears those he’s observing talking trash about him and he wonders if all he’s been doing or has done, has actually changed a damn thing. I enjoyed the slight comedy of this piece and the superhero slant was an interesting direction to take this story.
Cold Expressions is another fascinating piece of flash fiction that deals with a jumper, someone trying to commit suicide. Esther our protagonist intervenes just as he’s about to take the plunge. Another snapshot of a life that has been affected by the storm and its devastation. Short. Sharp. Clean and cuts right to the bone!
Buddhatarium is a familial tale where a family are at breaking point, but there is one last thing they can try but is it worth spending their life savings on something that might not work, it’s a huge risk but somethings got to change. This one for me was a bit of a chore to finish but I’m sure it will find readers that enjoy this tale – it’s witty and well written but again for me felt a little out of place if we take the storm as the thing that binds this collection together.
The Weatherman I was delighted to get to this story when I read through the collection, as mentioned above this guy was a character I wanted to know more about from the first story and boy Balogun doesn’t let you down. It’s not what I expected but I loved how this story turned out, I still have some questions, but I’m thrilled I got to find out some answers along the way. A great way to end the collection.
So, The Storm by Akeem Balogun is an interesting book, a mixed bag for me, and showcases a writer who is finding their voice. We have stunning flash fiction and great longer pieces, but between them some of the stories were lacking the impact and the correlation to the wider story arc at hand. I enjoyed this outing and I’ll be searching out any longer works that Balogun does in the future – I guess I just wanted a little bit more from this collection, it’s set up perfectly and maybe a few stories about being in the storm, stories of people stuck and fighting for survival, the devastation of the storm would have helped raise my interest and left more of an impact. It just seemed to me that the people, the many characters in The Storm just seemed to accept that this storm hit and that it never ended. I for one would have been a little bit crazy if a storm started and never ended and just continued to rage for years – I’d have liked to have seen this explored more if I’m totally honest.
But a very interesting collection nevertheless, I did really enjoy the science fiction elements and I’ve also enjoyed discovering a new voice to champion and look forward to more work in the future. Also Okapi Books is a new publisher making waves and taking that first tentative step into the independent book scene – and for all of that, this is a collection that’s worth checking out!
The Storm is published by Okapi Books and is available here.
Akeem Balogun is a writer based in Sheffield, UK, whose fiction has appeared in Pomme Journal, Writing as Resistance, Now Then Magazine and elsewhere. He has also collaborated with the likes of Found Fiction and Festival of the Mind to create project themed stories. The Storm is his first book. For more about him please visit his website.
Reviewed by Ross Jeffery
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