19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
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Format: Kindle Edition
This book is seriously good. It knows what it's doing and does it with finesse. The author is also a fine executioner, just like the character who provides the title of the book. This author can do a lot with 30 or so pages. The stories reminded me of Roald Dahl's adult short stories...morbid and witty, always with a hint at the sinister and unsettling, and usually with a twist at the end. You can also see that a huge inspiration for this book has been Vladimir Nabokov, as all the stories display some form of unreliable narrator ala Charles Kinbote from Nabokov's 'Pale Fire' (who even gets a mention near the end of the book!) I enjoyed every story (there are nine of them) and each was different and surprising. I will go through each story and describe what really struck me about them, or, in a couple what didn't really work for me.
1. The Infamous Bengal Ming
The Story: This story is told by the tiger of the cover, who resides in captivity- a life he was born into. His main concerns are his mating partner's aloofness and his intimidation by the alpha male of the cage. Oh, and his unconditional love for the zookeeper who feeds him.
My Thoughts: I found the narrative voice of the tiger really effective. It sounds strange to say that a tiger could pull off a believable character you care about, but it works. The story is simple and heartbreaking and there are moments when the tiger's reckless actions take your breath away and really kick-start your maternal instincts! There is an innocence and naivety about the tiger, who loves his captor unquestioningly and everything he does, although disastrous consequences ensue, was done for the right reasons and out of care or love or fear. What he does after he escapes the zoo is often bloody, brutal and horrifying but you still worry about him and want to protect him because what he does is instinctual not evil, and, to him, beautiful because it equates with his life and his survival.
2. The Strange Career of Dr Raju Gopalarajan
The Story: Gopi Kumar moves himself, and his reluctant wife Manju, from India to the USA. Gopi is a confirmed trickster and fraudster, having previously impersonated a police officer to move on some traffic outside their window. Having always wanted to be a doctor, Gopi decides to fulfill the ultimate American Dream and make himself one...
My Thoughts: This was a really interesting story which sees Gopi's self-awarded doctorate put to some grotesque, and harmful, uses. The narrative describing how he collects his patients (largely immigrants who can't afford the American health-care system) in bus stops and happily cuts them is gripping. The story is underpinned by Gopi's relationship with his wife which is very moving. They rarely communicate or have sex. She describes him as flaring up with passion and enthusiasm when he's excited about something but it soon dies down when he's bored. I think most couples can relate. Gopi's hopes, dreams and aspirations are built on shoddy foundations and he drags his wife along for the ride...resulting in sorrow for them both.
3. Four Rajeshes
The Story: This story is written as though a man is looking at an old photograph of an unknown man, and it is inspiring him to write a story about him. However, the imaginary photo-man interjects in the narrative too! The photo-man/narrator is the manager of a train station and employs a strange youth who proves to be more sinister and trouble-making than he ever expected.
My Thoughts: This story had me less gripped than the first two but I still really enjoyed it. I really liked the way the imaginary man from the photo, who provided the muse for this story, kept butting in to claim the author had got things wrong and was making him look stupid or perverted! The author portrays him as committing homosexual affairs behind his fiance's back...which he highly disapproves of. The man he employs (named R) is a really fascinating character too- you're never quite sure if he is a sinister and creepy boy on the verge of madness (as the narrator paints him) or if he is a misunderstood genius and it is the narrator who is the strange one. The ending surprised me!
4. I Am An Executioner
The Story: This one is about a man whose occupation as an executioner becomes a barrier between himself and his new wife. Particularly when a young girl arrives at Death Row.
My Thoughts: I ADORED this story. It was so gorgeously written and had so many layers. The executioner hangs and stones people to death with such a detached manner that it becomes horribly disturbing to read. He befriends the people who find themselves on Death Row and can't understand why they cry and plead and beg him for their lives when their time comes. It's not his concern. He just wants a light-hearted chat and to maybe share a beer. We get flashes of his insanity; the way he disregards these pleas of the friends he has made, his evaluation by a psychologist as deeply disturbed, the strange and unexplained horrible event that happened to his first wife at his hand. He has acquired his new wife through a dating website, where it becomes apparent he has lied about his job, age, looks and height to secure her. She sits all day in filthy clothes and abject depression. His unwanted physical advances made my skin crawl. The ending had me in tears.
The Story: An wife in surburbia sits in her living room with her husband's dead body at her feet. She continues as normal, until the guilt of 'did she/ didn't she' leads her to remember her past.
My Thoughts: This was another story which didn't hold my interest as well as the others. I found it a little tedious. Again, it is narrated by the wife who is an unreliable narrator, and we get flashes of her not-so rational behaviour towards her daughter and her daughter's roommate. It's like Henry James's 'The Turn of the Screw'...did she kill him or is she mad? You want to find out, but I found the explanation unsatisfactory.
6. Narrative of Agent 97-4702
The Story: The narrator is part of the Agency which, from what I could gather, is a kind of surveillance organisation which enrols people secretly and then gets them to spy on other people who are subject to investigation. It's a Fight Club thing; no one talks about the Agency and no one knows who else is in it. I'm pretty sure that this takes place in a dystopian future too. The story takes the form of a confession that te narrator is submitting, admitting to accessing unauthorized information on the person she has been surveying.
My Thoughts: This story was very interesting in the way that the narrator was so cold and detached towards the people she was meticulouly following and writing reports on all day long. The notes she makes are so detailed, down to the tiniest gestures he makes, to what he says to his wife each morning and in what tone. It seems as though the narrator has been trained to be emotionless and not become emotionally involved with the subjects of the investigations, to the point where she even stages a four year relationship with one just to spy on him more thoroughly. I read it aloud to my boyfriend and I think that made the narrative seem even more stilted and unnatural, which I loved because it fit the character so perfectly. I found it gripping and, as the story went on and she becomes more and more disallusioned about the Agency and its implications and wanting to find out more about it, I felt the same.
7. Bibhutibhushan Mallik's Final Storyboard
The Story: Bibhutibhushan Mallik is the production designer for famous film director Jogesh Sen. And he is also having an affair with Sen's wife. His dream is to direct his own film and move with Sen's wife to NYC, but things start to unravel AFTER he gets his big break.
My Thoughts: I liked this story, but didn't love it. The narrative is from Mallik's perspective and you become aware that you're not entirely sure why Sen's wife is having this affair. She seems reluctant to return his advances and you're fairly sure she never really wants to leave her husband. Why then? The ending also really confused me. I liked the story of how Sen became a renowned film director and the descriptions of the film sets etc because imagining these two young guys in India filming boys in trees and tying cameras to the backs of wagons was really cool. It was quite obvious that Sen was the real genius of the operation and Mallik only thought he was...and it is always compelling to hear the point of view of a seriously deluded character!
8. Elephants in Captivity (Part One)
The Story: A difficult one to explain, but basically the narrator is watching some elephants in a circus and imagining how they came to be there, which he can do easily as he believes he can communicate with them. The elephant who tells him the story (through her written autobiography) is called Shanti, who was the daughter of the old herd leader Amuta. However, to make things even more complicated there are extensive footnotes on every page of Shinta's narrative, with backstory about how Amuta came to be the pack leader and her betrayal of the previous leader Ania told in a Shakespearean or Revenge Tragedy style. There are also footnotes relating to the narrator's own life and his family's history of suicide, and his own resemblance to an elephant and how that may have occurred.
My Thoughts: This was my favourite story of all- it is just brilliant. At first I was a bit put off by the footnotes; I usually love footnotes and unusually shaped narratives but there were so many of them and so long! However, as soon as I got to the dialogue between Amuta and Ania I was absolutely hooked. I loved the way it was in the style of a Revenge Tragedy and how the elephants had these huge soliloquies and Aside's, as that is really how I imagine elephants talking! They are very wise and regal animals, with a hint of ancientness about them too, which the dialogue reflected nicely. The narrator's story is also interesting; his parents died in a car accident... in that they accidentally sat in their car in a closed garage with the motor running, clasping hands. Hmm! He is obviously a very deluded and quite deranged narrator, and I was so excited when he referred to Charles Kinbote from Nabokov's 'Pale Fire' as I had long been thinking whilst reading the other stories that Parameswaran must have been influenced by Naokov. Charles Kinbote is an incredibly strange and complicated narrator, who is both a literary creation and not, which is the same with the narrator of this story. Both stories are brilliant and I highly recommend reading this if you like unusually structured stories with questionable narrators! Metafiction at its best!
9. On the Banks of Table River (Planet Lucina, Andromeda Galaxy, AD 2319)
The Story: As the title suggests, this story is set on another planet in the future. Humans have occupied it and live alongside the native 'beings' who have many legs and feelers. The narrator, Thoren, is one of the beings, and he has a daughter, Nippima. He has a fraught relationship with her due to her interest in humans and her recent job of giving them tours of the planet. However, her actions may be a lot worse than even he thought possible.
My Thoughts: I was dubious about the title as I am not really into Sci-Fi but this story is so brilliant that I quickly forgot all that! I loved the characters and the way the aliens had such a distinctive voice and customs. There are parallels with humans, such as Thoren's teenage daughter, insead of shrugging at him constantly, 'twitched her feelers indifferently- an irritating gesture'. I loved this as it not only showed familiar gestures in a new light but also showed how human customs and gestures were perhaps infiltrating the new planet. Humans seem to treat the planet either as a holiday camp or a science experiment, which makes you sympathise more with the aliens than the humans...in an Avatar kinda way! The main part that will stick in your head is the mating ritual of the aliens. I imagined it as two praying mantis's fighting to the death...it is a horrific and brilliant description and was my favourite part of the story.
Overall, I loved this book of short stories. Most of them were fantastic and even the stories I found less interesting had amazing ideas behind them. I know I will definitely be re-reading some of them in the future; particularly the last two as Parameswaran's writing is beautiful and his ideas are flawless. I am a huge fan of an unreliable narrator, and if you are too you really need to read this book.
This Book has Inspired me to Read: Re-read 'Pale Fire' by Vladimir Nabokov.
Three Words to Describe this Book: Gripping. Moving. Thought-Provoking.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
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What an amazing set of stories Parameswaran has written. As a writer myself, these are exactly the kinds of tales I try to tell. He just does it better--a source of inspiration and, yes, a bit of envy. The Indian literary genre is full of identity crises, arranged marriages, interracial dating (gasp!), and other challenges of East meets West or just living in the East. I AM AN EXECUTIONER dispenses with all that to chart new and shadowed and much more interesting territory, whether a hapless immigrant impersonating a doctor (with mixed results), a conflicted woman spending Thanksgiving with her husband's corpse on the living-room floor (not a spoiler: the story's first line reveals this), or the title character's struggles to deal with the two very different females (one has been sentenced to death) on center stage in his life. Parameswaran's stories may be over the top in concept, but his execution (pun after the fact) is sure and even lovely. His characters, as freakish as they sound--even the alien one in a hauntingly beautiful tale near the end--are human in every sense, including the basest. In these pages are stories that may not be for everyone (probably not for exclusive readers of chick-lit, for example), but they illuminate dimensions we all have, in highly entertaining ways. My proverbial hat is off to the author for his originality, courage, and beyond-keen eye.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
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What an amazing new talent. These stories are so imaginative and each one leaves you wanting more. I cannot wait until this author publishes a full-blown book. Highly recommended.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
As I've mentioned a number of times before, I avoided reading short stories and short story collections for years because I didn't enjoy getting attached to a character or getting drawn into a plot, only to have it end fairly quickly. But then I realized how a good writer can often give their stories so much depth that you feel as if you've actually read a novel. I'm glad I finally opened my mind in this way, because I've had the opportunity to read some exceptional short stories over the years.
Rajesh Parameswaran's debut collection, I Am an Executioner: Love Stories, introduced me to a writer with some terrific promise. A number of the nine stories in this collection started with fascinating ideas and memorable characters, and left me thinking about them even as I moved on to the next story. While a few of the more experimental stories fell flat for me, there are definitely some stories to savor, including the opening story, "The Infamous Bengal Ming," narrated by a tiger who realizes he has fallen in love with his trainer at the zoo; "The Strange Career of Dr. Raju Gopalarajan," which tells of a former CompUSA employee so drawn to becoming a doctor that he actually masquerades as one; "Demons," in which a woman's wish for a moment's peace from her husband's nagging leads to disastrous results during Thanksgiving; and "Bibhutibhushan Mallik's Final Storyboard," narrated by the art director of a famous Indian movie director who wants to break away from his boss and old friend to make his own movies and start his own life anew. I'm not much of a fan of the more free-form story styles, a category into which two of the stories I liked the least fell, because I felt they distracted me from the heart of the characters and the narrative.
I really marveled at Parameswaran's ability to capture many different voices, from the housewife to a train station manager with an inflated sense of self-importance, to tigers and elephants. (My biggest problem with the title story was the voice of the main character, who used a pidgin-type of English I found tremendously distracting.) The stories that worked best for me in this collection were those which laid out the plot fairly simply, only to let me discover all of the amazing nuances of character and narrative he created. I definitely found some of the characters occupying my mind--and some even infiltrated my heart, which is the mark of an excellent storyteller. I look forward to seeing what else Parameswaran has up his sleeve in the future!
Posted by LHH at 3:56 PM No comments:
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
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Format: Kindle Edition
This is a review of the book I am an Executioner, by Rajesh Parameswaran, a series of short stories purporting to be about love. I say "purporting" because, while they are indeed love stories - even if you stretch the definition somewhat - I found the title of the book very revealing, because most of them seemed to be as much about death as they did love. In addition, while love did feature heavily as a theme, romantic love did not, so using the term "love stories" on the front cover could be interpreted as being misleading.
The stories are in many ways disturbing. As a mother with a baby, I had trouble reading the first story from the POV of an escaped tiger and its treatment of the "human cub" it comes across. The story of the repressed wife who goes to Thanksgiving dinner with her husband dead on the living room floor is, again, something out of my comfort zone. But then again, this isn't a bad thing, and I find it helpful to leave my comfort zone occasionally. The tone was helped by the liberal helpings of humour, often black and certainly always dark, but nonetheless there, which was a welcome distraction. There is perhaps an over-reliance of the experiences of Asian migrants living in the United States, which is part of Parameswaran's own story, but then again if one does not write what one knows - to some extent at least - then the work can come off feeling contrived and unbelievable. These stories, even those from the perspective of animals, are neither of those.
My one criticism is that some of the stories felt unfinished. Four Rajeshes I thought was too open at the end, and Elephants in Captivity (Part One) did feel like it would have benefited from Part Two and perhaps even Part Three. Even the final tale, On the Banks of the Table River, left a little too much unanswered for my taste. Perhaps Parameswaran's writing is too subtle for my palate, which is certainly possible, but it did leave a sense of vague dissatisfaction upon completion of the book.
That said, however, it is an exceptional first collection of short stories. They are well written, original, inventive and ultimately believable, if occasionally unnerving, and are certainly not the bland tales which one may expect from a debut author. Ultimately, if you are looking for a collection which will stay with you long after you finished the last word, then I am an Executioner is a book for you.