Skip to main content

New Yorker Fiction Reviews: "We Didn't Like Him" by Akhil Sharma

Each week I review the short fiction from a recent issue of The New Yorker. There. I said it. I'm free...

Issue: June 3, 2013

Story: "We Didn't Like Him"

Author: Akhil Sharma

Plot: A young man in a small Indian city tells the story of his distant cousin, Manshu, with whom he grew up. A few years Manshu's junior, the narrator expresses a simmering contempt for Manshu from the time they are children together, through the time Manshu becomes a local temple-keeper thanks to the narrator's father's largess. Though a member of the brahmin (or upper) social, Manshu exhibits lower-class ways; he marries a woman beneath his caste, he uses his position as temple-keeper to scam people, he commits social faux pas in gaudy and embarrassing ways. However, he is tolerated by his family, and the narrator, because he is just that: family. The narrator does not like him, but nevertheless, he is always there to pick up Manshu's slack. Proving that he is, in fact, of better quality than Manshu.

Review: I'll just say it and get it out of the way so you can go back to living your life: I wasn't crazy about this story. There's hardly a plot at all (which is not a problem in and of itself, by any means, but plotless stories have to be done very carefully). Both Manshu and the narrator are unlikable; Manshu is painted as a low-grade loafer with few redeeming qualities, and the narrator has no distinguishing characteristics other than his lifelong disdain for his older cousin. His disdain for Manshu turns out to be well-deserved, but that doesn't make me like the narrator any more for that.

It seems that we are supposed to like the narrator just because he suffers Manshu's eccentric behavior with the stiff-upper-lip and eternally noble spirit of a brahmin. That's cute and all, but I don't like narrators who toot their own horns and present themselves as martyrs and without flaw. Martyrs make uninteresting fictional characters. In fact, martyrs are pretty uninteresting unless they die for their cause; otherwise they stay alive and they want to remind you about self-less and humble they are for sublimating themselves to their cause. And, with that, I think I've just summed-up this entire story. Even the title of this story is uninteresting and petty. "We Didn't Like Him"??? Maybe they didn't like you either. Did you ever think of that?

I'm not willing to judge Akhil Sharma, fine writer that he must be in order to get into the NYer, based on this one story alone. But I'm not impressed.


Popular posts from this blog

New Yorker Fiction Review #146: "Three Short Moments in a Long Life" by John L'Heureux

Issue: May 9, 2016

Story: "Three Short Moments in a Long Life" by John L'Heureux

Rating: $

Review: I feel like this is a somewhat tired technique, straight out of Creative Writing 101: write a story consisting of three or four different snapshots or snippets out of a character's life at different ages, sort of like a series of written photographs. Fun perhaps, but strikes me as a bit amateurish. However, I also think L'Heureux succeeds here by pushing it a bit further, playing with the character's tentative attempts at something close to faith -- in childish, adult, and mature adult ways -- and tying all three "Short Moments" together in a subtle and readily decipherable way.

L'Heureux's prose and his frank humor and his ability to glorify and find the meaning in the mundane events and thoughts of every day life, and thereby turn the life of an ordinary person into a drama with meaning and significance puts me in mind of John Irving. As well a…

New Yorker Fiction Review #151: "The Bog Girl" by Karen Russell

From the June 20 issue...

My loyal readers (if there are still any, which I doubt) will know I'm usually not a fan of Magical Realism, which, as you may also know, is Karen Russell's stock in trade. That said, there's nothing I love more than having my antipathy for magical realism shattered by an awesome story like "The Bog Girl."

Briefly, an Irish teenager discovers the body of a young woman who as been buried in a bog for over 2,000 years and begins to date her. What more do you need, right? If I'd read that one-line description somewhere else, and wasn't on a mission to review every New Yorker short story, I doubt I'd have read "The Bog Girl." But maybe I should start doing a George Costanza and do the opposite of everything I think I should do.

Where Russell succeeds here is in two main areas: 1.) Making us really love Cillian, the teenager who falls in love with the bog girl, and 2.) pulling the unbelievable trick making the characters…

Water Review: San Pellegrino 250ml Bottle

Damn you, tiny little bottle of San Pellegrino. So little. So cute. But what are you really good for other than to make me wish I had a full bottle of Pellegrino? 
Good as a palate cleanser after a nice double espresso, I will give it that. But little else. The suave yet chaotic burst of Pellegrino bubbliness is still there, but with each sip you feel the tragedy of being that much closer to the end of the bottle, that much faster.

This is a bottle of water made specifically for the frustrated, for the meticulous, for the measurers among us with a penchant for the dainty. This water does not love you in the wild, on a sunny porch or with the raucous laughter of friends. No...much the opposite. Whatever that may be.

Best drunk in tiny, tiny sips, while forcing oneself through an unreadable and depressing Russian novel one does not want to read but feels one should, on a cold, wet day in December that promises four months of gloom and depression...or in pairs or threes and poured over …