Neither adventure nor delight await the characters of this ironically titled collection.
The first line of the title story sets the scene: “The side door of the police van slid open, rattling, and he was shoved inside.” Gautama has been arrested for hiring a prostitute; “like many foreign students in America who are living away from home for the first time,” he quickly gravitated to the illicit joys offered on the internet. After his brush with the law, he begins dating another Indian grad student. When his parents reject his choice, he ends up back on Craigslist. “Adventure and delight”? Hmmmm. An apter phrase might be “bad luck and isolation,” and that is the real throughline in this collection of stories. In “Cosmopolitan,” an Indian man who has been abandoned by his wife and daughter begins an affair with his neighbor Mrs. Shaw after she stops by to borrow a lawn mower. Despite his assiduous study of women’s magazines, Mrs. Shaw remains a mystery. He also attempts to win some friends in the Indian expat community by memorizing a book called 1,001 Polish Jokes and changing the Poles to Sikhs. It doesn't work. The narrator of “If You Sing Like That for Me” experiences love in her arranged marriage only once, for just a few hours. (Once you’ve met her husband, you’ll sympathize.) “You Are Happy?” is the story of a boy who is miserable—his mother is an alcoholic who is eventually sent to India to be murdered by her own family. In “A Heart Is Such a Heavy Thing,” the protagonist’s 12-year-old brother threatens to hang himself on the day of the nuptials. “If you want to stop the wedding, remember to kill yourself before, not after, we are married,” advises the groom-to-be. A short story which seems to have been the origin of Sharma’s breakout novel (Family Life, 2014)—same names, same swimming accident, same brain-dead brother—is included as well.
Filled with a strong sense of the odds against any kind of happiness, these stories have a psychological acuity that redeems their dark worldview.