Annam Manthiram. Aqueous (www.aqueousbooks.com), $14 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-0-9883837-2-2
This debut short story collection from Manthiram (After the Tsunami) is an occasionally breathtaking, but more often unsophisticated, exploration of the causes and effects of dysfunctional behavior. Beginning with "The Cottonwood Borer", a compact and powerful story told by a young girl about her mother's desire to be reincarnated as a as the titular figure, each story examines wildly different characters, from a young Indian girl who can't live up to her parents standards in "Asha Ma", to a lonely woman who buys storage units hoping to find emotional satisfaction in their unknown contents in "Whatcha Bid". The stories are most successful when they are at their darkest, displaying allegorical brilliance on the scale of a Sanskrit epic. In "Golconda, India 1686," passages describe a princess's lavish life with a description of the rules of the game "carrom", one the princess must play with a traitor to save her father's life. Generally, though, the stories are too clever, as though they were lifted from the notebook of a young creative writing student who's trying to show everyone how smart she is. The result is an uneven collection that moves from surprising and subtle prose to stories riddled with poorly constructed analogies and overbearing themes. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 01/21/2013
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