In the summer season, when the air is thick with heat, and all you want to do is stretch out on a beach, with a fruity cocktail, and a good book, Hannah Onoguwe’s short story collection Wine and Water, provides exactly the kind of romantic escape we all need from our every day lives.
Each of the twelve stories in the collection is crafted with a brilliant attention to detail, bringing forward characters, so fully fleshed out and dimensional, you can almost feel them in the room with you. The dialogue is beautifully simple, and easily believable, structured in a way that rings true to many real-life conversations, and all the more powerful for that. Each story presents a self-contained world, painted richly and in broad strokes, fully immersive, and sentimental, bringing about a warmth and love of the backdrop that almost makes it a presence of its own within the writing. With her descriptions of Lagos as a city where love blossoms so beautifully and easily between so many different people, Onoguwe builds it up as a place of dreams, while still grounding it in reality.
While the stories themselves are about love, and romance, they also tackle a number of real, and serious issues, that play an important role in the characters’ lives and decisions. From familial ties and relationships between parents, children and siblings, to the issues of women’s position in society, these problems, represented without sugarcoating, only serve to make the stories stand out more, as literary texts that take themselves – and the subject matter – seriously, and don’t underestimate the readers, giving them a full spectrum of emotions.
There is also something to be said about the way in which Onoguwe crafts her male characters, writing them just as flawed, real, and richly imagines, as her female protagonists. Often in writing romance, authors fall into a trap of endlessly romanticizing the love interest, projecting a fantasy of the ideal man, and forgetting to write a human. In Wine and Water, each of the male characters – lovers, brothers, and fathers is allowed to have an inner world, and an emotional landscape that makes them all the easier to fall in love with- both for the protagonists, and the readers. The female characters too, are afforded variety – they are women from all walks of life, different women, each strong in her own way, with dreams and desires that never looked down on, or considered invalid, with an eagerness and lust for life that is deeply relatable, and incredibly important in a time where ennui seems to be the modus operandi for romance heroines, who are just waiting for a man to save them. These women don’t need a savior, so much as a companion who will share life with them – this is made abundantly clear in “Baggage to love”, a story that brings together two sensitive people, and allows them to be vulnerable with each other, and reveal their feelings despite baggage, and previous hurts.
Overall, Wine and Water is an incredible collection of short fiction that will bring a smile to your face, and allow you to engross yourself in a wonderful world, where love is just around the corner, and everything is possible with honesty, hard work, and genuine faith in people. It’s en excellent read for summer, and offers something to take away to everyone.