Category Archives: short stories

Home Remedies by Xuan Juliana Wang

Home Remedies by Xuan Juliana Wang Title: Home Remedies
Author: Xuan Juliana Wang
Publisher: Atlantic Books
ISBN: 978-1786497413
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

It is so tricky to start reading a short story collection. You think: Will I like all the stories? Will I like some stories at least? Will it be the same as reading a novel? What if I want some stories to last longer? That will not happen. Should I then read a short story collection at all? There will always be such thoughts, doubts, and apprehensions one might have before starting a short story collection and yet when you do and the reading is so rewarding, you want everyone else to read the book as well. And this is why I am recommending “Home Remedies” by Xuan Juliana Wang.

And yes, the stories might seem familiar, but trust me they are not. The twelve stories span across China and America, and speak of choices: of immigration, love, sex, and the family structure. The stories challenge the reader – you think hooting for one character and immediately the narrative changes. It also makes you see perspectives – one cannot take sides.

An immigrant family raising its first Americans to a father-daughter relationship involving logic, to a story about a woman becoming a fashion icon after taking a dead girl’s clothes, Wang’s stories are of family, belonging, and displacement. Mostly also unclassifiable, these stories are also quite dream-like. The characters with their unusual sex lives and technology that stunned me are thrown into an abyss, which only Wang knows the exit of. The writing looms large of Chinese cultural undertones, while the American way of life runs in parallel.

Home Remedies is built out of small observations and details. The stories are rendered perfectly, well-done and extremely rewarding. The stories do not have an end in themselves and that works – the unknowable, the speculation, and the way she is almost playing with the readers’ expectations. Home Remedies is a short read, with only twelve stories, and is full of heart and brilliant storytelling.

 

 

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Mr Salary by Sally Rooney

Mr Salary by Sally RooneyTitle: Mr Salary
Author: Sally Rooney
Publisher: Faber and Faber
ISBN: 9780571351954
Genre: Short Story
Pages: 48
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

March 2019 has been a slow reading month. This is only the 4th read and I know I will also catch up. It’s okay to take it easy sometimes. It is just fine to read at the pace you wish to. So I then decided to read the Faber Stories (there are 20 of them, I own about 13), one by one, and this is the first that I read today.

And just like that perspective shifts. And just like that Sally Rooney writes a short story that has the capacity to pierce and make you wonder about circumstances of falling in love, of the nature of love itself. .

Mr Salary is one of the 20 mini books published by Faber Books as a part of their celebrating 90 years of publishing. It is a story of Sukie and Nathan, of what brings them together and what keeps them apart. Read it. There is nothing Rooney can’t write about. It is a story about love that is different (might sound cliched but please do read it) and how it sustains itself over time. Also, how the story gets its name is kind of funny and delightful to read about.

Rooney’s characters are so layered and complex, even in a short story. That’s the writing prowess and the world she conjures. It almost feels that you are a part of it all for those 40 pages or so. Her writing is sparse but is most effective. I know it is a short story and perhaps doesn’t exactly count as a “book read”. However, it most certainly has the potential to become a full-fledged novel. Read it for the prose. Read it for the setting (Dublin). Read it for how she has the ability to make sense of (sometimes) some emotions.

Mouthful of Birds by Samanta Schweblin. Translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell

Mouthful of Birds Title: Mouthful of Birds
Author: Samanta Schweblin
Translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell
Publisher: Oneworld Publications
ISBN: 978-1786074560
Genre:
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

The world of Samanta Schweblin’s stories is intriguing. There is aplenty and then there is nothing. You begin to wonder as a reader, in-between being stumped by the prose and the sheer magnitude of the story being read, whether or not you are worthy of it. The stories are nightmarish for sure, but then Schweblin also prepares you for them right at the beginning. The context and the tone are set immaculately, the translation by Megan McDowell precise to the last word and emotion, and more than anything else the diversity of the collection, only makes you want to turn the pages sooner, even if the collection seems too long at twenty stories.

Mouthful of Birds is strange. But that’s what makes it so delicious a read. The title story is that of a teenaged girl, who to the fascination (at some point) and repulsion of her divorced parents resorts to only eating live birds. It just happens, one fine day without any reason. So what does one feel after reading such a story? Pity? Empathy (can you, really)? Disgust? Schweblin gives you enough and more room to feel, get in touch with your emotions at the end of the every story, only to be met with another story, with another set of emotions all over again.

The devastating realities of fairy tales creep up in The Merman. You cannot help but go back to your childhood and be alarmed at what you read. This is just Schweblin’s perspective when she has a story to tell and it shines. Or you have a story such as “Butterflies” whose end will leave your stomach churning and wanting more. The imagery of no two stories is remotely similar. Schweblin draws every story and every framework from different places and varied emotions, which makes it even more interesting.

That’s the thing about Samanta’s stories. They make you wonder, you are awed, fascinated even, repulsed, revolted, and yet you cannot help but turn the page to the next one. It is the feeling of a roller-coaster ride, knowing you are going to fall, plunge headlong and yet there is this excitement – the butterflies-in-your-stomach kind of a feeling. If anything and more, this collection is ferocious.

You can also tell that the stories have matured and come to the author over a period of time. These have not been written all at once, and it shows. The translation by Megan McDowell is on-point. She also translated Fever Dream by Schweblin, which was written after this collection but translated and published in English before. But that’s just a technicality in the sense of publishing timeline.

What is truly astounding is how McDowell makes the original voice hers, thereby giving us a culminated effort. The multiple stories breathe and live multiple lives. It is as though you can see the author mature and an underlined theme runs throughout – that of intense dysfunctional of family and the self. Headlights, the opening story is strange – Schweblin has got the emotion pat-down and you can see the misogyny of men. In another story titled Preserves, an unborn baby is spat out (perhaps unwanted as well). Each story shines and has its own unique element. Some leave the reader satisfied, while others don’t.

Mouthful of Birds breaks ground in storytelling and so many times also sticks to the traditional format of showing more and telling less. It challenges readers every step of the way, and never lets you imagine what will happen next. Samanta Schweblin’s reality is the one we inhabit and also the one we are way far-off from. That to me is the beauty and core of this fantastic short-story collection, that deserves to be read by almost everyone.

The Legacy of Nothing by Manoj Pandey. Illustrations by Yuko Shimizu

The Legacy of Nothing by Manoj Pandey Title: The Legacy of Nothing
Author: Manoj Pandey
Publisher: Pan Macmillan India
ISBN: 978-9386215628
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 126
Source: Publisher
Rating: 2 stars

There are times you are reading a book and really hope and pray that you like it, that it doesn’t disappoint you, till it does, and honestly you then do not know what to do. Should one continue reading it? Endure it so to say, for some time only, like a bad relationship is endured? Should one drop it? I read it. It had a lot of promise, if only the stories were longer and better structured.

The Legacy of Nothing by Manoj Pandey is a collection of ten byte-sized (forgive me for using this phrase) stories. I don’t know if the stories are poems or the poems are stories, either way, it didn’t work for me. The landscape of Manoj’s stories is beguiling. You want to be sucked into it. You want more and end up receiving nothing.

His stories are of migrants, of people who just want to make a living with dreams and hopes of their own, of people who are treated callously in their own country, feeling dejected and alienated. This is precisely why I wanted to love this collection, to soak into their lives, but maybe the form of writing isn’t for me.

The collection starts with how we project ourselves on social media and the lengths we will go to achieve that. The first story “Decay” hits you hard when the protagonist, a struggling musician will go to any lengths to stir a sensation online – even take advantage of a story of rape. Or the one titled “Inadequacy” which is about new age role-plays and how it fits into our current social conditioning (which by the way doesn’t come through at all). “Pretty as Fuck” is about Facebook friends who chat, interact, get to know each other, and then what happens when they meet. There are seven other stories – of a Maoist who finds solace in sips of Coca-Cola (the only one I could feel toward), of a man who changes his sex (The longest story in the collection. I wish there was some empathy while writing this), and more in the same vein.

So, here’s the thing: The stories aren’t empathetic enough toward its characters, or perhaps they don’t want to project that to the reader. Maybe that’s how it is when it comes to these stories and its fine, but as a reader I felt nothing for the characters.

The writing seems rushed and not involving. Everything is just on the surface. The format is new and works initially, only to become jaded and leave you wanting more. The Legacy of Nothing sadly leaves you with nothing at the end of the book.

In Appreciation of Saunders

george-saunders

Ever since I have read George Saunders I have been in awe of his writing. I may not have enjoyed Lincoln in the Bardo the way I thought I would, but that’s hardly of concern when it comes to appreciating Saunders’ works. I think the beauty of Saunders beside the writing, is his capacity to create characters that are regular – they are flawed, broken, and perhaps have no capacity to be extraordinary and yet strangely enough they are.

Also, might I add the skill with which he writes or rather crafts a story. After Munro, if there is any other short-story writer I truly admire, it is him. Whether it is the idea of the fantastical merging with everyday living, or just the irony of getting through the day, Saunders literally saves a reading-slump-kind-of-day. You just have to read any short story written by him and it is worth it – every single word and every sentence.

Pastoralia was introduced to me by a friend and I cannot thank the friend enough. This collection of short-stories embodies the twisted, the lonely, and the post-modern version of American – served hot and ready to be slaughtered. Whether he talks about a couple living in a theme-park, where speaking is an offence (rings a bell given the times we live in?), or whether he is speaking of a male exotic dancer and his family, Saunders shows us a world that is funny and yet so scary, so familiar and strange, but above-all, so authentic and graceful in its prose.

Pastoralia

I must speak of The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil here. This slim book is literally a tour-de-force (I know this word is way overused, however, I can’t help but use it for this one). This is the book about power-hungry, and demagogic Phil (again can’t help but relate it to the times we live in) and how his reign begins as people from one nation run into another for asylum.

Phil

Saunders has always sort of been prophetic when it comes to his stories, and whatever he chooses to write about really. Whether it is Tenth of December or In Persuasion Nation, both fantastic short-story collections, Saunders is on the top of his game, never missing a beat. His people are lost, maybe not even seeking redemption – all they want is their stories to be told, voices to be heard, and sometimes remain in the shadows battling their demons.

Tenth of December

The Brain-Dead Megaphone is perhaps one of the best collection of essays I have read in a long time. It is his first collection of essays and has trained himself to look at the real – ridden with a strangeness – in the political and cultural milieu. I loved the literary pieces in this book – Saunders’ view on Mark Twain, Vonnegut, and Barthelme – every essay is on point and showcases all the skewed characters chosen by the author.

Megaphone

This, I think in a very brief manner encapsulates his body of work that I have enjoyed and loved over the years. He is one writer that never disappoints and constantly delivers, no matter what. Read him and allow yourself to be taken in by his eccentric, mad, most illuminating prose.