Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Book Review: "If You See Me, Don't Say Hi" by Neel Patel

With his debut story collection, If You See Me, Don't Say Hi, Neel Patel serves notice that he is a talent to be reckoned with. The 11 stories in this collection are packed with emotion and turn people's perceptions and stereotypes of most Indian Americans on their ear.

Some of the characters in these stories follow traditional paths, while others are anything but traditional—they're Facebook-stalking exes or creating schemes to facilitate booty calls. But in each of these stories, the characters face moments of truth, and often need to make a split-second decision which could have significant ramifications. These dilemmas give the stories extra weight, and make them compulsively readable. I read this entire book in one day.

I really enjoyed all of the stories in this collection, but my favorite stories included: "Just a Friend," in which a young gay man wants to know the secrets his older, married boyfriend has been hiding—but doesn't quite expect what he finds out; "God of Destruction," which tells of a woman enchanted by the wi-fi repairman; "Hare Rama, Hare Krishna," which juxtaposes a teenager's navigating his parents' marital troubles with his acknowledgment of his own sexuality, and all of the good and bad that comes with that; and the title story, which follows the tumultuous relationship of two brothers, from the teenage years through adulthood.

The last two stories in the collection, "World Famous" and "Radha, Krishna," are connected, and are the two I loved best. The stories follow a young man and a young woman who were thrown together as children but went their separate ways, and then reconnected in adulthood, only to find that both had been more scarred by their lives then they'd care to admit. These stories were poignant and thought-provoking, so different than I expected, and I could have read a novel with these two characters. (That is the case with some of the other stories, too.)

Patel imbues his stories with humor, emotion, sexuality, empathy, even surprise at times. He creates some characters you will root for and feel for, and others you might dislike, or not quite understand. There is a warmth to his writing, but he doesn't put his characters on a pedestal—he lets you see them the way others see them.

I thought this was an excellent story collection, and definitely heralds Patel as someone I am going to follow in the future. I know not everyone is a short story fan, but these are stories with some emotional heft, so they feel worth the investment of your time.

NetGalley and Flatiron Books provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

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