Em and the Big Hoom

Jerry Pinto. Penguin, $16 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-0-14-312476-4
Pinto’s debut offers a heartbreaking glimpse into the daily horrors and sometimes humors of growing up with a mentally ill parent. Set in India, the story is told through the eyes of an unnamed son looking back on childhood with his always tumultuous mother, Imelda, aka “Em,” and her casual cruelties, unpredictable public scenes, suicide attempts, and psychiatric stays. The narrator does his journalistic best, investigating his mother’s old letters, her diary, and interrogating the snide, quipping Em as much as she’ll allow, to determine how she even met his stalwart father, Augustine, aka “the Big Hoom”—let alone how they came to start a family together. The narrator also hopes to find out exactly how Em lost her mind. Even in her many betrayals, Em is charming; the narrator’s depiction of her is unflinching and honest, and relayed in a tidy voice that’s nearly matter-of-fact. The result is a trim but deeply felt first novel that successfully navigates some difficult territory—identity, madness, our obligations to one another—without ever becoming bogged down. (July)
Reviewed on: 05/26/2014
Release date: 06/24/2014
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