With its inimitable style If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi by Neel Patel took me by surprise. I read it because it was our book club selection (I am compulsive that way) and because I am into short stories these days having just published my own book of short stories.
The title story is about two brothers and their physical, emotional and intellectual differences; gripping in language and style. Crisp: “He was my guard. If a child my age happened to be harassing me at school, Deepak would would wait for him on the playground.” It has a nice arc about how they grow apart as they mature into adults and then catch up (sort of) again as families do. Indian families. But then family is named Deepak, Deepika and Deep. Is that funny?
In a nutshell – First generation Indians, a community that has prospered through hard work and/or intellect and are comfortable with their “foreign” culture have born a new generation – not American, not Indian – that feels shackled (to use the kind of word Mr. Patel would use) by its heritage and bounty. This new generation wants to experience the country of their birth the way others who are not Indian do. Much of this rebellion is expressed through “in your face” language (I can’t quote here) and situations (I kept thinking of the show Fleabag) and is compulsive reading. However use of sexual scenes to express every emotion other than love may define a moment but does not help develop basically good characters that people the stories – of any heritage.
Needless to say I am quite conflicted. Its characters seem driven by their physical or environmental needs without any moorings in sight. So I feel for them. Yet they don’t fall off the mental wagon (except in one story). Huh? What did I miss? I wanted to know more about them and also less. But one thing rings true – we can never know another person. It is true.
But that is why we read fiction (what I don’t understand, I can imagine) and not biographies.