cover image The Elephanta Suite

The Elephanta Suite

Paul Theroux, . . Houghton Mifflin, $25 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-618-94332-6

The dismayed, disoriented American travelers in this trio of stereotype-shattering novellas from Theroux (following Blinding Light ) lament the missing “solemn pieties” and “virtuous peasants” of the India they read about in novels. In “Monkey Hill,” a wealthy ugly American–type husband and wife take pampered health spa treatment at the foot of the Himalayas to be their due. But when the couple presume that the sybaritic care they’re paying for includes invitations for sex with masseurs and waiters, their idyllic holiday takes a tragic turn. In “The Gateway of India,” a fast-track Boston capitalist finds his loathing for the squalor of Mumbai’s slums tempered by how easy it is to buy the affections of young women; meanwhile, his once obsequious Indian assistant is usurping his power. In “The Elephant God,” a college graduate on her own encounters a young man whose call-center mastery of American dialect somehow rewires him from overly friendly striver to malevolent stalker. These unsettling tales about American travelers at odds with India’s complexities are linked through passing references, but what they share most is a transformative menace that takes the place of spiritual succor. (Sept.)