by Chris Abani
Becoming Abigail is a coming-of-age story that is not your typical girl-grows-up, does-stupid-stuff, turns-out-OK tale. And Chris Abani's prose punctuates every detail with a poet's gift for description.
The story centers around the unanswered questions of Abigail, whose mother was also named Abigail and died while giving birth to her. Abigail grows up to face the struggle of uncovering her mother's identity as well as that of her own. When her cousin, Peter, offers her a trip to London, Abigail cannot pass up the offer, only to have things go downhill from there. She becomes intimate with her counselor, the only person Abigail actually trusts, Peter gets Bobbitted, and that's not the worst of it. The ending offers so many twists that readers are forced to contemplate who and what is right and wrong or even if there ever was a right and wrong.
Using short, deliberate sentences and allowing his chapters no more than a couple of pages, author Chris Abani brings the precision of the poet to the novella. Abani's pages are packed with subtle lines that you have to reread to make sure he said what you think he said, lines like "trading a cherry for a bag of sweets" to describe Abigail losing her virginity, and this sequence describing Abigail, the mother, finding her father hanging from the ceiling fan: "Line linking her to him. Him held only by that line falling. Falling from the ceiling in hemp. Hemp becoming flesh. Flesh the fluid of him, leaking. Leaking down his leg. Leg ending in the toe. Toe brushing her cheek with a cut. Cut the line. Cut the line."
Although Becoming Abigail may run only 114 pages long, it is not a light read but a story that makes you think about relationships and how easily a person can be exploited. With the chapters toggling from past to present, in a way similar to the movie Memento, it can be difficult to figure out to which Abigail the narrator is referring, as difficult as it sometimes is to stomach exactly what is happening in the story. Becoming Abigail is a novella that will stay with you for quite some time.