Friday, December 22, 2006

The Red Carpet

I was at my brother's place a few weeks ago and noticed this sitting on the bookshelf. It's been at the back of my mind for a year and a half, ever since the author's brother mentioned it to me, and I figured I now had no excuse. Ironic, I suppose, that despite not being a short story aficionado, I wound up with two collections to while away the early mornings at the WACA!

I have to say that I infinitely preferred this lot to the Munro collection I read immediately prior.

At first glance, one would think that the stories would be best appreciated by someone who could directly identify - that is to say, a member of the modern-day South Asian Diaspora (with a nod to all you SSAMD members out there!). However, despite the fact that I've never lived in India myself, and couldn't directly identify with all the specific experiences, the underlying themes never failed to resonate.

The characters and stories were all lively and vibrant. I enjoyed the cross-pollination, with different aspects of individual characters being drawn out in different stories, sometimes as the central protagonist, and othertimes as the comedic side-kick. I doubt it was the author's intent, but for me this served to satisfy my innate need for trite endings and resolution in a short story, without actually reverting to either.

It could be said that the stories themselves are cliches - but against that, I would counter that that's precisely the point. It's the stark realities of those cliches that gets us reflecting and questioning, and any writer that can make us do that is onto something.

Several of the stories could easily be transformed into a novel in their own right. An exploration of the relationship and parallels between the Indian and American worker (I forget which short this was in) certainly would provide plenty of fodder. I'm looking forward to seeing what Sankaran comes out with to follow-up, given that it's often the second and third works that tell us where a writer is really going to go.

Next on my reading list: Iain Aitch's "A Fete Worse than Death" in which he reputedly sees Bill Bryson, and raises him some.

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