Always thoughtful and often aching, the 11 sharp stories in Patel’s debut find his characters—mostly first-generation Indian-Americans; usually young, or youngish; often in Midwestern cities—navigating love, loss, and disappointment.
In “god of destruction,” which opens the collection, an unhappy interior designer has a one-night stand with the 22-year-old cable guy after a botched internet date. “No one ever told me that happiness was like a currency: that when it goes, it goes, and that few people are willing to give you some of theirs,” she reflects. Later, she’ll write the incident out of her history. In “just a friend,” a 22-year-old college dropout meets a handsome married dentist at a Chicago gay bar only to find out, after a romantic weekend together, that the man isn’t who he seems. The title story is both the simplest and the showstopper, about the troubled relationship between two brothers, told from the perspective of the high-achieving youngest, now a doctor. It’s an empathetic family portrait, exquisitely subtle, without villains; their falling out, when it happens, triggered by a comment over a white girlfriend, is about nothing and also everything. The silence between them lasts for 10 years. The collection ends with an unexpected pair of linked stories following a boy and a girl who met as kids and again as adults, both of them having become items of community gossip. When they reconnect in their Illinois hometown, in his story, she’s newly and scandalously divorced; he hasn’t matched for a residency after medical school. Her story picks up years later, after both of them have achieved something like success. At the core of Patel’s stories is a sense of loss, more powerful for its quiet restraint. Not every story is an equal knockout, which is a hazard of the format, but Patel’s deep sense of empathy—and infuriatingly relatable characters—shines throughout.
A melancholic pleasure with a sense of humor.