cover image A House is a Body: Stories

A House is a Body: Stories

Shruti Swamy. Algonquin, $25.95 (208p) ISBN 978-1-61620-989-6

Swamy writes with a cool precision that draws the reader into her debut collection. Eleven of the 12 stories have simple descriptive titles—“Wedding Season,” “Night Garden,” “Mourners,” “The Neighbors”—that belie the works’ complexity, and the plots unspool in lovely lucid prose that has a poetic omniscience. “The Siege” begins with this attention-getting hook: “It was the priest who smothered the horse.” The first line of “Blindness”—“Sudha and Vinod had a modest wedding”—is shadowed by the meaning of the story’s title. The story’s heroine struggles secretly with disaffection, paranoia and nightmares despite the serene surface of her married life. “The Siege” is set in an unnamed country with regressive attitudes toward women. As the female protagonist becomes increasingly introverted and fearful, her husband gains a bravura swagger. In the long and whimsical “Earthly Pleasures,” arguably the centerpiece of the book, a young woman’s intimate relationship with the god Krishna leads her to a sensual awakening and a heightened sense of the world’s beauty. The lone stylistic exception is the title story, written in a splintered, urgent voice that amplifies the plight of the agoraphobic mother at the center; trapped with her young daughter as a raging fire encroaches from the hillside. Swamy is off to a strong start. (Aug.)