If Stay Right Here review: won’t get you wet but will make you feel
By Keletso Mopai
A few months ago, I posted something contentious on Facebook, out of frustration and annoyance. This was after having read a certain contemporary queer short-story by an African writer. The post basically said:
“May we grow past writing stories about queer characters by mainly focusing on their queerness (e.g. stories that focused on coming out of the closet or going into the closet). We needed stories that mentioned a character was a lesbian without going into a lengthy diatribe about when she discovered she became one. Even though gay people have been here since the dawn of time, in 2018 some people still find homosexuality appalling hence, most artists focus on the brutality on queer bodies and explaining homosexuality to people who are not queer.
This frustration branches from the wish that homosexual characters got the same treatment that straight characters get in storytelling. If the tables were reversed, imagine someone having to explain your straightness. That you are straight as a ruler, no fluidity, whatsoever. That you prefer the other sex and not the one you were born with and are familiar with.”
Friends in my literary circles commented under this post with some arguing that perhaps some writers needed to explain and brutalize their characters because LGBTQ issues in Africa are still in the “activism stage”. I feel that this is a problem. Queer people are human beings with complex issues, joy, and pain—outside their queerness. We love and we fuck, and get mind blowing orgasms that makes us feel as if our bodies are shooting straight to the heavens on a scooter.
The post also brought redemption and light and also optimism for our brilliant storytellers from Africa, because someone made a comment that said, “I believe I’ve written such a book already. My novel was published because of that very reason. The characters aren’t so fixated on their queerness, they simply just exist.” This comment came from Chwayita Ngamlana, whose book If I Stay Right Here (published in 2017 by BlackBird Books) is the very reason why I stayed up all night thinking about two people I met inside her pages, and then decided to compile this review. I bought the book because of her comment.
If I Stay Right Here: a slice of reality
Now let’s talk about this thing that Chwayita Ngamlana has served us. The story revolves around Shay, a journalism student who meets Sip, a prisoner. Like the stereotypical lesbian couple, Sip moves in with Shay when she is released from jail after the two get attached. Soon enough, a tall, hell-fire breaks out, both try to put out the flames. This is a tale that explores love, lust and abuse within a queer woman’s relationship so there first and foremost should be trigger warning for those wanting to read the book.
The story is one of a passionate and toxic love and I found that throughout the pages, there is a sincere connection between Sip and Shay that is both daring and yet very dangerous. You will pick a side, the obvious side, and then you would get frustrated with that character.
Another thing I loved about the book, is how Chwayita depicted some of the problematic butch lesbians who, for some reason, are under the spell of toxic masculinity. The type of masculinity that means she does not want to be touched down there because they would feel “emasculated”. The type of masculinity that doesn’t want their lover to taste them because it makes them feel like a “pussy”. They want control, and control to them means:
- It is supposed to be them on top.
- It is them who are supposed to fiddle the flower.
- It is them who are supposed to savor the juice.
- They are the ones who should make the other cum.
It is something that bothers me personally and continues to bother me. I’d ask my queer friends (who are butch), and they’d say the most astounding things ever. And I wonder why it should be like that. And is it better when we are both femmes? When no one feels as if they should be in control? Why can’t we just make love without falling for the toxic lie that is heterosexual roles? This of course doesn’t apply to all butch and femme couples; some are merry with being equals; I think these are the healthy ones. This book begins to unpack and unravel these heteronormative ideas through the interaction between two characters.
Here is a small fact you should know for when you do read If I Stay Right Here: Do not think you are not going to get wet. Even for a second, do not lie to yourself that you won’t want to dial your ex-gf or rip your lover’s underwear, because, well, that shit happened. This book WILL make you want to fuck things up… honestly… sending you strength bo beyps. The issues it tackles within relationships will have you feeling some type of way because of the unhealthy nature of this relationships.
Apart from the mouth-watering sex in the book and a whole lot of other lovely things, this a troubling tale of a couple in love. It is a tale of one person suffering abuse at the hands of another. It is a story of when a romance goes dark and goes wrong and you cannot escape. These two people are trapped in this. You will live with Shay. You will cry with Shay. You will laugh with Shay. You will feel as if you are are Shay. And if you read it in a short period of time covered up with a blanket like I was—you will absolutely feel as if you are in bed with them as a couple.
Chwayita Ngamlana has this unique way of telling the story that makes her book impressive. One can tell that there was so much care that went into writing this book. As a storyteller, I was in awe of her imagination; how she’d use numbers, colors, and a simple domestic task such as baking in your kitchen—to depict a scene.
I say kudos to her and her publisher, who saw the importance of this story, and how it could change lives, because it certainly changed mine.