Has the god Krishna returned? Only in the fantasies of a troubled Indian-American kid, explored at length in this tragicomedy of alienation by debut novelist Satyal.
First the lipstick, then the eyeliner: Kiran is raiding his mother’s cosmetics again. The 12-year-old only child finds his life divided between his almost all-white school in a Cincinnati suburb and his parents’ all-Indian world of Sunday school after Hindu temple and potluck parties every Saturday night at a rotating series of houses owned by affluent immigrants just like them. Afflicted with severe migraines and blackouts, Kiran finds solace in makeup sessions, ballet classes and playing with dolls. For his school’s upcoming talent show, he decides to devise a ballet based on Krishna, whose icon rests by his mother’s bed. Then an idea takes hold: Might he be the tenth, hitherto withheld incarnation of the god? Blue-skinned Krishna played the flute, gorged on butter and was a famous lover; Kiran buys a recorder, increases his butter consumption and notices blue tints to his skin. Being a lover is the hard part, for our hero doesn’t yet understand sex, though his eventual orientation is clear. Kiran studies Penthouse and Playboy. He happens on some teens having wild group sex in the park. He spies on a boy and girl making out at a house party. This spectacle gives rise to a most un-Krishna-like jealousy, and he tells on them. A snitch, a crybaby and at one point an arsonist, Kiran is not easy to love, and his voice veers erratically between that of a child and an adult. The author never manages to come up with much of a plot or develop credible supporting characters, leaving readers stuck inside Kiran’s head as his illusions become ever more grandiose, until he finally declares himself “just as great, just as godly, just as genius as Krishna.” The climactic talent show fails to provide resolution.
Loses its way after a promisingly edgy start.