Friday, April 27, 2012

Book Review: "I Am an Executioner: Love Stories" by Rajesh Parameswaran

As I've mentioned a number of times before, I avoided reading short stories and short story collections for years because I didn't enjoy getting attached to a character or getting drawn into a plot, only to have it end fairly quickly. But then I realized how a good writer can often give their stories so much depth that you feel as if you've actually read a novel. I'm glad I finally opened my mind in this way, because I've had the opportunity to read some exceptional short stories over the years.

Rajesh Parameswaran's debut collection, I Am an Executioner: Love Stories, introduced me to a writer with some terrific promise. A number of the nine stories in this collection started with fascinating ideas and memorable characters, and left me thinking about them even as I moved on to the next story. While a few of the more experimental stories fell flat for me, there are definitely some stories to savor, including the opening story, "The Infamous Bengal Ming," narrated by a tiger who realizes he has fallen in love with his trainer at the zoo; "The Strange Career of Dr. Raju Gopalarajan," which tells of a former CompUSA employee so drawn to becoming a doctor that he actually masquerades as one; "Demons," in which a woman's wish for a moment's peace from her husband's nagging leads to disastrous results during Thanksgiving; and "Bibhutibhushan Mallik's Final Storyboard," narrated by the art director of a famous Indian movie director who wants to break away from his boss and old friend to make his own movies and start his own life anew. I'm not much of a fan of the more free-form story styles, a category into which two of the stories I liked the least fell, because I felt they distracted me from the heart of the characters and the narrative.

I really marveled at Parameswaran's ability to capture many different voices, from the housewife to a train station manager with an inflated sense of self-importance, to tigers and elephants. (My biggest problem with the title story was the voice of the main character, who used a pidgin-type of English I found tremendously distracting.) The stories that worked best for me in this collection were those which laid out the plot fairly simply, only to let me discover all of the amazing nuances of character and narrative he created. I definitely found some of the characters occupying my mind—and some even infiltrated my heart, which is the mark of an excellent storyteller. I look forward to seeing what else Parameswaran has up his sleeve in the future!

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