Slow and steady wins the race, but what if you’ve got a purposefully fast car?
Publisher: Cassava Republic Press
First Published: 1st April 2016
Date Reviewed: 14th March 2015
Morayo is a book-loving English Literature Professor. Originally from Nigeria, her life has taken her around the world before she finds her place in San Francisco – she thinks often of returning to Africa but feels it wouldn’t be right. At 75 years old she’s retired and loves spending time reading, darting around in her Porche, visiting friends at their coffee shops, and walking about the city. But recently she’s had letters from the DMV about incidents she thinks are minor, and on the same day she gets another of the letters calling her for a test, she falls over.
Like A Mule Bringing Ice Cream To The Sun is a beautifully written novella about the changes that come with age and the process towards acceptance when things become difficult. It looks mainly at Morayo but her acquaintances and the strangers she meets during the book are also given time.
It’s a lovely work. In a way similar to Emma Healey’s approach towards the later years in Elizabeth Is Missing, Manyika deals with her subject gently but effectively. She presents Morayo as someone who may or may not be losing her memory – you’re in the same boat as the character herself as to whether you know if it’s happening or not – and someone who has yet to realise that perhaps she needs more help. A very independent person, Morayo is confused about the sudden need for a wheelchair, for example, and does not adhere to the idea that her car must be sold, at least she’d like one more ride first. We have more ‘confusion’ to deal with upon meeting characters like Dawud, a man who seems to patronise Morayo, this older woman who will look through his flowers, rarely buying though she ‘was one of those that preferred the organic place down the street’.
To a slightly lesser degree than independence is included a study of Morayo’s sexuality. She may be old but she looks at pleasure with fondness, remembering moments from her life, relationships, and writing about her feelings. Rather than the stereotype of the older angry neighbour rapping on doors, Morayo listens to the rhythmic knocks on the walls with interest. Age and sexuality is viewed neutrally, Manyika simply saying that it happens rather than discussing it, reminding us it’s normal and that sexual pleasure is not confined to the younger years.
Brought into the book by both Morayo’s presence and the inclusion of another character – an African American who visits the care home to see his wife – there is consideration of race, of living as a black person. Morayo muses on the way a person says she looks awesome in her wrappa, in her multi-coloured clothes, and that whilst it’s a nice compliment, she’d just blend into the crowd in Nigeria. Reggie, the man who visits his wife, contemplates his being married to a white woman, thinking – aside from the way she is no longer herself and that he isn’t keen on the way the staff dole her up with cosmetics when she never used so much in her competent days – about the way her children disowned her for marrying a black man. He thinks of the way he had to stop seeing a girl because her father called him a coolie.
In addition to the subjects at hand we have other stories – the story of Sunshine, who Morayo describes as Chinese but seems to be Indian (the lack of confirmation isn’t an oversight), and the conflict between housekeeping and motherhood, and the desire to work. We have the story of Dawud and his sister, Amirah.
It’s a good book. And it’s a good book about good books. Morayo’s love for reading comes into play often and Manyika knows that going into detail is best in this case:
As you will see, I no longer organize my books alphabetically, or arrange them by color of spine, which was what I used to do. Now the books are arranged according to which characters I believe ought to be talking to each other. That’s why Heart of Darkness is next to Le Regard du Roi and Wide Saragossa Sea sits directly above Jane Eyre. The latter used to sit next to each other but then I thought it best to redress the old colonial imbalance and give Rhys the upper hand – upper shelf.
There are several of those moments. There’s a sad one too, one that book lovers will sympathise with, that demonstrates the vast difference between readers and non-readers.
If there’s any downside to the book it’s that it’s perhaps too short; whilst the ending as far as Morayo is concerned is pointedly ambiguous – it suggests something bitter-sweet without confirming it – we don’t find out what happens to the other characters.
Like A Mule Bringing Ice Cream To The Sun is a novella to look out for. The content, the approach to every situation, the writing, make reading it an afternoon very well spent.
I received this book for review from the FMCM Associates.
March 30, 2016, 4:59 pm
Okay, this book sounds delightfully charming — I have to get it.
April 14, 2016, 5:43 pm
Yes, I love the sound of this one! Just got to this post after listening to the author’s recorded answers to your questions!
April 15, 2016, 8:13 am
Audra: That’s a good word to use to describe it.
Laurie: Yay! I want to say it’s in line with other books about older people, just haven’t read enough of them yet to say so (do have another on the way).