The debut from Canadian writer Khan offers a sharp, often disturbing primer on toxic masculinity.
Omar Ali is a 27-year-old line cook in Toronto. He gets a call from the father of his on-again, off-again girlfriend, Anna, from whom he's been estranged. Anna has killed herself...and has, her father insists, left no note for Omar. The rest of the book depicts in often agonizing, sometimes darkly humorous detail the emotional disfigurements Omar suffers—or inflicts on himself—in the aftermath of her death. Omar's grief gets sublimated into violence (he's fired for brutally slapping a co-worker), sex (we get a blow-by-blow of his affair with Kali, a young woman who comes from a Hare Krishna family); crime (mainly petty theft); and rage-posting on the internet (he blows off steam by threatening terrorist violence on Reddit). Omar also reconnects with Hussain, an old neighborhood pal who's farther along the path to self-immolation—a little crueler, more unhinged, more alienated, and more reckless. After they break into a house, two members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police call on Omar. He's been under surveillance, so they have him over a barrel, but if he'll go visit local mosques and provide information, or if he'll help entrap his friend Hussain, they can keep him out of jail and provide cash. The portrait of Omar that emerges is hard to look at, and that's to Khan's credit; the inner lives of snarling, stunted, solipsistic man-boys aren't pleasant to see. Most fascinating are the ways Omar's status as a Canadian Muslim figure in. As he's well aware, for him there can be no such thing as a personal crisis, because the personal is always also political; there can be no alienation that doesn't also exacerbate his status as an alien in his own country and city, even his own skin.
A raw, gritty, shiver-inducing—but very readable—account of a young man in a spiral of grief and self-destruction.