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Interpreter of Maladies (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Saturday, 17 June 2017 20:09

his isn’t my usual type of book. There are no trains, no musketeers and no spaceships. This is about ordinary people, Indian people, going through gradual encounters of change. My wife read it and I had a look – after all, it couldn’t suck too badly. Ms. Lahiri won a Pulitzer for this effort.

You also might remember that I reviewed the first story I read a few weeks ago, A Temporary Matter. I really enjoyed it, and looked forward to more of the same. And in that, my hopes were realized.

Again, not dramatic action here, no 24 pace. There isn’t even deliberate irony or meaning. But one can read these stories and see how the characters might have arrived at their ending positions. For example, in the title story, Interpreter of Maladies, an older man who normally works for a city doctor helping to describe his patents ailments ends up tour-guiding for an Americanized Indian couple (and their bratty kids). Here the main character hopes that the wife might confess something to him yet when she does, it doesn’t go as he planned. And in This Blessed House, a somewhat mismatched married couple (he an executive, she a free-spirit) purchase a house in America where the former residents hid away Christian items for them to uncover. The wife approaches it as a game, he as a transgression. In Mrs Sen’s, an American boy is after-schooled by a quiet Indian bride. While we see hints of her superior culture in her grace and poise, we also see its weakness in her lack of independence and murderous ineptitude at driving. And Sexy, where a Western woman has an affair with an Indian man and deals with the issues of cheating and infidelity – not directly, but with a growing unease.

Like I said, all of the stories were good in their subtle ways. It was like a cup of rich tea, not a diet soda. They were pleasurable and thoughtful and interesting and, like life, left me wondering where each was going.

For the advanced reader, I can only strongly recommend this work. You won’t be sorry.


Last Updated on Saturday, 17 June 2017 20:35
A Borrowed Man (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Saturday, 10 June 2017 20:26

like noir. I like detective stories set in gritty cities where a shoe-leather, trenchcoat guy who knows people and knows the city plays against power (mob or city hall) and figures out the guilty party (even if that party is his client). Yeah, it’s a great genre.

A Borrowed Man, by Gene Wolfe, attempts to use a scifi setting to update this mythical misty figure. This time it's in the far future in a depopulated, exhausted (but seemingly verdant) Earth. The Borrowed Man in question is author E.A. Smithe, who seemingly penned many scifi classics including Mission to Mars. Now he's long dead, but cloning being what it is, he's been brought back as a "resource" for the local library. He lives "in the stacks" (some sorts of three-walled tiny apartment). Library patrons can check him out if they wish, so simply sit at a table and "consult". But the future is like now, few people read or care about the past. And Smithe has the burden of needing to be used - otherwise he, as nothing but property, can be "burned".

And this is when a beautiful woman comes in and checks him out. She asks all sorts of interesting questions about books and how information can be secreted inside them. And this leads to our first interesting factoid - her rich father is dead and inside his safe was nothing at all save so a single book - Mission to Mars.

This, of course, sets off a frightening chain of events as Smithe, with no rights as a human, has to figure out what is going on and why his book (of all others) was in the dead man's safe. Now, I'd like to say that this became a tale of lovers on the run, of power and corruption and death and greed as is so much a part of noir. But it isn't. Really, there is the details of her father's house, the deliberate search, the introduction of a couple of characters who, outside of being useful gophers, don't seem to bring much to the tale. No, the fire just isn't there. Smithe has some interesting adventures (and I will admit that the final secret was interesting, yet inexplicable in its origin). A second-class citizen would be doubly endangered in such a world but Smithe doesn’t seem too concerned. Even getting the shit beaten out of him leaves him disinterested.

The setting really doesn’t help the noir-tale either. It's hard to imagine a world falling back into nature with small cities with bus stations and beat cops and jewelry stores and downtown shopping. It just seems too 50's in this sparse future world. All good conflicts require pressure (the pressure of gritty big cities in this case) but it just isn't there.

It's a good book all in all, just not a great one. And (if you are like me and have a friend send it to you for free) then read it. I'm lukewarm on this one, I'm afraid.


Last Updated on Saturday, 10 June 2017 20:50
A Temporary Matter (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 28 May 2017 00:00

hoba and Shukumar are a young Indian couple living somewhere in the west on their quiet street with their quiet lives, she an editor, he still a student. And in the mail comes an announcement that following the last snowstorm the power company wants to firm up their repairs so for the next five nights service will be cut from eight to nine PM.

Sounds innocent enough. The couple continues on their lives, with reflections provided by Shukumar as he considers, without enthusiasm, the state of their marriage. It turns out that some time before Shoba had been pregnant with their first child yet lost it while Shukumar was away on student matters in Boston. By the time he'd returned, he had only to pick up his wife from the hospital. And now their marriage, once vibrant and new as young marriages go, is cold and lifeless now.

But nothing gets discussed. Shukumar locates birthday candles and prepares dinner. At 8am, the power goes out. They sit in the dark. And Shoba proposes a game (since she grew up in India with its blackouts (he did not)). They will tell each other something they'd never told before, something new.

And this, as the reader might suppose (or ever hope) will force the couple to focus on their marriage. And it does seem to help; they admit to small crimes, lies and such, opening to each other in the expressionless dark as they never had. And they move towards reconciliation of sorts, painfully digging their way out of the hole they'd dug, the grave of their marriage. And as readers, I suppose we root for them, hoping for the moment they rediscover their love.

The fifth night of outage. The final night. Yet they receive a notice that repairs are complete, that power will remain on. When Shoba comes down, her husband says that they could still "play their game" with the lights off. But no, she replies, she wants the lights on so their faces will be visible for the final round of truths.

And what gets said? Do they recover? Does it all come crashing down?

This is the first story, a wonderful exercise in storytelling, from Jhumpa Lahiri in her collection Interpreter of Maladies, a collection of short stories for which she received the Pulitzer. You'll have to get it yourself if you want to find out how it all turns out. Me, I'm eagerly seeing what further delights Ms. Lahiri has in store for me in her book. The opener has been wonderful. I can only hope she holds this pace throughout. So, at this point, a strong recommendation. More to follow...


Last Updated on Sunday, 28 May 2017 09:47
Biketopia (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 21 May 2017 14:14

ver since I became some sort of public bike advocate (hey, I just like to gush about riding them to and from work) everyone forwards me articles and stories about bikes. Well, Biketopia was a small collection of short stories combining alarming futures, feminism and bikes a friend sent me. I looked forward to seeing what they could do with the topic.

Not much, I'm afraid.

Maybe it was just me, but the stories all looked like tales put together by people who saw the call-for-submissions stuck to the bulletin board of the local coffee house. Yes, they talked about dystopian futures, and yes, there was some bikes and some angry women in them, but really nobody seemed to capture the flavor of the idea. Bikes and feminism is a freeing human activity, one that breaks us from a male dominating culture (in either sense). And grim tomorrows - it’s a man-made and car-made disaster anyway, so that should have been easy.

But the bikes and feminism - it really wasn't there. It was just angry women in a nasty world with an occasional bike featured.

A couple of the stories did shine. There was Shelter by Cynthia Marts that nailed it. By the time I was done, I was an angry feminist myself. And bikes didn't just show up, they were part of the grand answer themselves. It was a fantastic story, so hats off to her for catching the power of writing. Also, Signal Lost by Gretchin Liar touched on how protective a society can become, how codling it is when you look at something like bikes. How many people blanch when I say I ride a bike in commuter traffic - this catches that feeling perfectly. And Maaike's Aquatic Center for Bicycles raised by Fishes, an effort by Jessie Kwak, that was just funny in a bikey sort of way.

Look, I'm not saying that you shouldn't support small presses and shouldn't buy this. Just be warned that, in my opinion, it could have been a little tighter-on-topic. Freedom of self - either through controlling your body or transporting yourself under your own power - that's the point that should have been made here.


Last Updated on Sunday, 21 May 2017 14:33

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