Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: Random House
Pub.Date: February 20, 2018
With this title, I was expecting a novel about the horrors that have been committed in the name of God, such as the Spanish Inquisition. But the title is misleading. The stories are more about the concept of how we see God or any power that can change our lives. This stellar collection is exploring humanity’s strangeness. The stories read as ominous and compelling fiction that I would call magical realism. The author, Anjali Sachdeva, is ridiculously creative in writing unusual and dark tales. After each story, I thought “How bizarre.” Still, after each story, I felt that the author hit a nerve, making the plot acceptable, even moving.
The title story presents stirring images of Nigerian schoolgirls who are kidnapped by jihadists. The story goes back and forth between the time they are abducted till they are adult women. It is so darn sad. As adults, they gain some sort of mystical power over the men who abducted them and they are no longer being abused. But it is too late. They have been beaten and raped too many times over the years. They no longer feel human. It leaves the reader wondering what is left when one survives the un-survivable. This story made me simultaneously think: Is surviving even worth it when the cost is that you lose your soul? And, hoping that in real life, battered women are able to find a way to leave their abusers and still keep their human core.
Dave Eggers, who wrote the best selling non-fiction “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” said Sachdeva’s short story “Pleiades” is “a masterpiece.” Indeed, it is one of my favorites in this collection of heartbreaking stories. This one is about a couple who are geneticists. Ignoring the protesters holding signs that read “Seven Deadly Sins” and “Frankenstein’s Children,” they produce seven test-tube sisters that grow to become loving and inseparable. Unfortunately, over their childhood, teens, and womanhood they are all ill-fated. Making the reader either hate or sympathize with the grieving parents. I kept going back and forth thinking that they were thoughtless parents-to-be, thinking only of their careers. Then to wondering that they were no different from other loving parents-to-be who also happened to be trailblazing scientists.
In “Robert Greenman and the Mermaid,” there is a fisherman, a mermaid, and a shark. Of course, the fisherman is bewitched by the mermaid. What makes this story so original is the shark. The mermaid loves to watch the big fish feed on its prey. She feels that the shark represents all that is beautiful in the deep sea. The fisherman wants nothing more than to escape or kill the twenty-foot long hunter. It is a sweet sad story leaving you to ponder why humans are so afraid of anything different from themselves.
The story that creeped me out the most and haunts me still is “Manus.” In this story, aliens replace human hands with metal appendages. This neatly sums up this story, but without producing the Heebie Jeebies feeling. The aliens are called The Masters. The story begins with a couple looking at their neighbor when he is opening his mail and begins to cry. He’s just received his draft card. In this story, getting a draft card means that within two weeks, you must go for an “Exchange Apparatus,” known to humans as the “Forker.” For the surgery, the human holds out their hands and inserts them into pneumatic cuffs that shut around their wrists. After removing, the hands are replaced with metal fingers that look like forks. Ugh. When it is time for the man in the couple to be forked, I actually wept for him. When it is his girlfriend’s turn, she rebels. She does not get forked. However, to keep her body metal free she self-mutilates. Leaving her body just as gross (I won’t explain more so you can be just as shocked as I was) as if she was forked, shades of the title story, was it worth it?
Sachdeva is clearly talented in her craft. I usually do not care for the genre magical realism, but this author makes me realize that the genre is about the human condition and how we are conditioned to feel. I so enjoyed the book, “Love in the Time of Cholera,” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, which I am now guessing is magical realism. I suspect this reviewer must examine the genre more carefully. Nevertheless, there are other stories in the collection also showing the damaging results of abusive power. All the stories in this collection have a unique and thought-provoking prose. Just know that she also writes like Rod Serling on an acid trip.
I received this novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.
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