Monday, August 15, 2011

Review: Quarantine, by Rahul Mehta

Reviewed by Christina
[I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.]

Published: 2011

It's about: In this debut collection of short stories, Rahul Mehta explores identity and relationships, usually from the point of view of young, gay, Indian-American men.

I thought: I loved it. I love Rahul Mehta. I think he is fantastic. He's funny and sensitive and insightful. His smooth, clever, wholly believable dialogue is PERFECT.

I feel silly admitting this now that I know these stories, but when I started this book I worried that I wouldn't be able to relate to them. I am not gay, not male, not of South Asian descent. I also worried that I would get tired of reading about this fairly small, specific population. I was totally wrong to worry about those things- Rahul Mehta writes these vibrant, incredibly varied characters who each have heartbreakingly real stories to tell. And the issues they deal with in their romantic and platonic and familial relationships are universal: the difficulty of relating to our grandparents, the awkwardness of having a less fortunate friend, the trouble with knowing how and when to let go of a relationship.

I read a goodreads review of this collection that complained about too much recurring autobiographical material. Many of the men in these stories grew up in West Virginia. They live in New York City at some point and move upstate later. They've been back to India to visit relatives. I'm sure Mehta gathered some (or all) of those experiences from his own life. But I didn't mind that; I think that's why the book rang true. And I rather liked looking for the common life events that the characters shared across different stories.

I hope I'll have a chance to read more from this author. I love his style. He deserves to be read.

Verdict: Stick it on the shelf!

Reading Recommendations: This reminded me a little of another wonderful collection, Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies.

Warnings: A fair share of pretty explicit sexual material. If you're uncomfortable with sexuality, this book is not for you.

Favorite excerpts:
(from "What We Mean")
This year, one of our old friends, Becky, has brought along a new girlfriend, Laura, whom none of us likes. Becky is a writer and Laura is an artist. At the beginning of every month, Laura presents Becky with a blank book she has made by hand. At the end of the month, Becky returns the book to Laura, full of poems. They have been doing this every month for the seven months they have been dating.
I think it's a bad idea.
In the car on our way to the beach, I ask Becky and Laura, "What happens when a month goes by and no one feels like making a book? Or what if someone has a busy month at work or falls ill? Or what if someone runs out of inspiration and has nothing to write about?" To emphasize my point, I start singing "You Don't Bring Me Flowers Anymore."
Becky looks at Laura and says, "That won't happen."
"But what if it does?" I ask
Becky says, "It won't."
"But what if it does?"
Laura says, "Even if it does, maybe it would be for the best. At least there'd be a sign that there is a problem. There is nothing worse than stumbling along, with everyone knowing the relationship is over except you."

What I'm reading next: The Help by Kathryn Stockett (please oh please, live up to all the hype!)