A good short story collection is exactly what is
needed in these troubled times when those who aren’t afflicted with ADHD are
addicted to Netflix or trapped in a toxic relationship with their smartphone.
These allow readers to squeeze in bite – sized doses of sublime stories between
massive social media surfing sessions, leaving them feeling good about feeding
their brains and souls something that isn’t sludge. But writing short stories
is a fraught business and it takes tremendous skill to cram engrossing plots,
memorable characters, and literary merit into a few pages. Over the years, I
have come to have a lot of appreciation for the maestros of the craft who pull
off this feat in style. Nisha Susan is
one of these and her collection of gems, The Women who forgot to invent Facebook and other stories is a master
class in the art and craft of storytelling.
It is a women – centric collection and yet it defies
expectations on every level. Told with light – hearted whimsy, savage wit and
brutal candour, the stories explore many facets of millennial women,
steadfastly refusing to paint them as long suffering victims, stoic saints or
inspiring heroes who are entitled to our pity, admiration and tendency to
deify. With an insouciant wink and a nod, Susan presents a parade of women
trying to cope with the challenges of love, sex, careers and everything else in
between while dealing with the challenges posed by a world that has been taken
hostage by technology with romance and relationships being the earliest casualties.
Over the course of twelve engrossing tales, Susan
enables us to make the acquaintance of her quirky, oftentimes unapologetically
amoral and thoroughly unlikeable characters. These include bar – hopping
buddies who draw up a sex map, talented dancers from Kerala who manage to have
rocking sex lives away from the prying eyes of their conservative folks, a
Rebecca – inspired tale about a young wife who disappears into her husband’s
dead wife’s secret – online world of
vice, a cheating spouse who becomes murderous on discovering that he is being
cheated on, a singer and a Prince who run into each other in a chat room, an
author who is trolled to within an inch of her life, and a lady boss who
becomes uncomfortably aroused while trying to provide insurance for potential
victims of revenge – porn.
It is a riot and a half, because Susan steadfastly
refuses to genuflect before the grand altar of political correctness,
preferring to present her protagonists with their unsightly warts presented to
maximum advantage. With bold and brazen strokes of Susan’s brush, these folks
wander off the pages of her book and waltz into your life, and you are sorry
only when the song and dance is over. Her protagonists lie to each other and
themselves, deceive and are deceived, are not above victimising others even as
they choose not to rise above their own victimhood, while never being anything
less than fascinating and absolutely real. Susan dares you to sit in judgement
of this lot or resist their attempt to sweep you into the whirligig of their
messed up realities.
This collection is the equivalent of a boxed
assortment of expensive Belgian chocolate, every single one of which sends your
senses into overdrive with bursts of exquisite flavour.
This book review was originally published in The New Indian Express.