So rich they read like dreams—or, more often, nightmares—the nine stories in Sachdeva’s otherworldly debut center upon the unforgiving forces that determine the shape of our lives, as glorious as they are brutal.
“Wonder and terror meet at the horizon, and we walk the knife-edge between them,” Sachdeva writes in her brief introduction; this is the world of her stories. There are no merciless gods here, not like in the olden days; instead, there is “science, nature, psychology, industry.” But these modern forces are as vast and incomprehensible as any gods were. The stories that follow span time, space, and logic: Nigeria and New Hampshire, the past and the future, realism and science fiction. And yet, for all its scope, it is a strikingly unified collection, with each story reading like a poem, or a fable, staring into the unknowable. In “The World by Night,” a lonely young woman in the Ozarks is abandoned—temporarily, and then forever—by her husband and finds dangerous refuge in a secret cave. “Logging Lake” follows a man in the midst of a post-breakup reinvention on the haunting date that will change the course of his life (whatever you’re thinking, that’s not it). “All the Names for God” follows two Nigerian women now forging “normal” adult lives after having been kidnapped as teens by extremists, their unimaginable history intertwined with the struggles of acclimating to the world they used to know. Equal parts cinematic and nauseating, the dystopian “Manus” is set in a world invaded by alien “Masters,” who demand, as part of their dominion, that human citizens undergo “re-handing”—a painless procedure that replaces hands with metal forks, required for everyone, sooner or later. They are enormous stories, not in length but in ambition, each an entirely new, unsparing world.
Beautiful, draining—and entirely unforgettable.