A debut story collection from Parameswaran.
The book opens with "The Infamous Bengal Ming," narrated by a tiger who expresses affection for his keeper in the only language available to him, a fatal combination of mauling and love-biting; he then escapes the zoo to commit other acts of mayhem, under which lies a misunderstood tenderness. This tour de force sets the tone and the stage for these dark, rollickingly imaginative stories in which the powers of love and savagery are loosed upon each other again and again. In the title story, a semiliterate (and also fancily semi-literary) hangman tries to seduce his new wife despite her disgust at discovering the way he makes his living. Meanwhile, he tries to negotiate between the equal and opposite forces of compassion and brutishness. In "The Strange Career of Dr. Raju Gopalarajan," a fired computer salesman, an Indian-born American who believes deeply—too deeply—in the immigrant dream of self-reinvention, checks out anatomy texts from the public library and sets up shop in an exurban strip mall, claiming to be a doctor. Other stories feature a panopticonic security state in which everyone seems to be a government agent spying on everyone else; an elephant composing a memoir (in "Englaphant, that strange tongue native to all places of elephant-human contact," we're told); an Indian woman soldiering on with Thanksgiving plans despite the fact that her husband lies dead on the floor. The stories—some published in journals like McSweeney's, Granta and Zoetrope—can sometimes be arch and tricksome, and they're not for everyone. But Parameswaran is a dazzlingly versatile stylist and the conceits and voices here are varied and evocative.
An inventive, impressive and witty book.