In the staggering title story, the awkward, love-starved narrator maneuvers between his day job finishing off convicted criminals and his home life, where he tries unsuccessfully to reassure his new wife that he’s not as bad as his profession would imply. His poetic, if exaggerated, Indian English creates its own cadence just as his compulsive justification creates its own logic: “I am an honest executioner. I take good care and I don’t tell lies, minimum of possible. And each time I pushed down that rock, and it landed with the bad sound, I thought myself: Truth!” Despite this accomplishment, however, the other stories in this admirably risky debut collection vary wildly in both scope and success. In “The Infamous Bengal Ming,” a story that feels like it parodies M.F.A. workshops, Parameswaran writes from the perspective of a tiger. In “Demons,” a middle-aged Indian immigrant responds to the trauma of her husband’s sudden death by ignoring his corpse on the living room floor. But Parameswaran should be applauded for pushing the limits of the genre and for the occasional searing brilliance of his language. Agent: Nicole Aragi. (Apr. 13)
The characters in this first collection, including a frustrated Bengal tiger and a woman gamely managing Thanksgiving dinner with her husband sprawled dead on the floor, suggest an offbeat temperament at work. The venues where these stories have appeared—e.g., McSweeney's, Granta, and Zoetrope—suggest talent at work as well. Great expectations; I'm eager to read.
A debut story collection from Parameswaran. The book opens with "The Infamous Bengal Ming," narrated by a tiger who expresses affection for his keeper in the only language available to him, a fatal combination of mauling and love-biting; he then escapes the zoo to commit other acts of mayhem, under which lies a misunderstood tenderness. This tour de force sets the tone and the stage for these dark, rollickingly imaginative stories in which the powers of love and savagery are loosed upon each other again and again. In the title story, a semi-literate (and also fancily semi-literary) hangman tries to seduce his new wife despite her disgust at discovering the way he makes his living. Meanwhile, he tries to negotiate between the equal and opposite forces in him of compassion and brutishness. In "The Strange Career of Dr. Raju Gopalarajan," a fired computer salesman, an Indian-born American who believes deeply--too deeply--in the immigrant dream of self-reinvention, checks out anatomy texts from the public library and sets up shop in an exurban strip mall, claiming to be a doctor. Other stories feature a panopticonic security state in which everyone seems to be a government agent spying on everyone else; an elephant composing a memoir (in "Englaphant, that strange tongue native to all places of elephant-human contact," we're told); an Indian woman soldiering on with Thanksgiving plans despite the fact that her husband lies dead on the floor. The stories--some published in journals like McSweeney's, Granta and Zoetrope--can sometimes be arch and tricksome, and they're not for everyone. But Parameswaran is a dazzlingly versatile stylist and the conceits and voices here are varied and evocative. An inventive, impressive and witty book.
A compulsive and infectious narrative restlessness marks Rajesh Parameswaran's first collection of short fiction…At their best…Parameswaran's stories combine narrative brio, ringing voices and beguilingly looped plots.
The New York Times Book Review
…marks the advent of a genuinely distinctive voice in American fiction, abundantly inventive, deceptively cunning and fearless in its careening disregard for the strictures of careful, polite storytelling…a debut collection of startling freshness and force.
The Washington Post
“Masterful. . . . Abundantly inventive, deceptively cunning and fearless. . . . I Am an Executioner marks the advent of a genuinely distinctive voice in American fiction.”
—The Washington Post
“Brightly original. . . . This is a world of many fools, but few villains—a world where tragedy and farce are plentiful but evil is debatable. . . . For every death or disappearance in this collection, there’s a wink.”
—The Daily Beast
“Beautiful. . . . Hilarious. . . . Parameswaran’s characters, humans and animals both, find themselves puzzled by love and power, devotion and detachment. . . . [These] stories combine narrative brio, ringing voices and beguilingly looped plots. . . . Realist revelation and postmodern speculation proceed in parallel. . . . These are very much stories that make us ‘wonder the universe.’”
—The New York Times Book Review
“Less a commentary on the desensitized nature of the modern world, Parameswaran is comparing the awkward, inescapable facets of everyday life—work, romance, familial exchanges—with the awkward, inescapable reality of death. I Am an Executioner [is] a heck of a way for an author to make an entrance.”
—Time Out New York
“Each of these utterly inventive stories is rich and satisfying in its own way. Parameswaran writes by his own rules, with brilliant results.”
—Nell Freudenberger , author of The Newlyweds
“Stories that are savagely funny, stories that haunt and sear and stun, stories so original they defy categorization—above all, stories generously laden with sheer reading pleasure: I Am an Executioner is a brilliant and spellbinding collection.”
—Manil Suri, author of The Death of Vishnu
“Each story is distinct and intricately-crafted, with characters that are eccentric, weird and yet entirely credible. . . . A wonderfully balanced potpourri of morbidity, humour and sensitivity. . . . [A] very impressive debut.”
“I Am an Executioner gets the pulse racing from word one. [Parameswaran] has redefined the American short story for me. Bravo!”
—Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story
“Strange, magical love stories. . . . Worlds of unrestrained creativity. . . . Very dark and yet very funny.”
—Culture Map Houston
“Brilliantly unnerving, wickedly funny, and deeply satisfying. These are ferocious stories about the power of love both to save and destroy, and what can happen to us when we succumb to our true animal natures. Rajesh Parameswaran writes with elegance and style and a fiendishly seductive wit that will take your breath away. An astonishingly original debut by a writer to reckon with.”
—Julie Otsuka, author of The Buddha in the Attic
“The stories aren’t experimental so much as they are vibrantly, raucously creative. . . . Like a great poet working in rhyme, [Parameswaran] can employ established forms to startling effect. . . . Fabulously inventive.”
—Capital New York
“[This] debut collection is filled with the voices of astonishing characters . . . whose pitch-perfect stories recalibrate the notion of love and power with dark humor and unbearable tenderness.”
“Intelligent, hilarious, and wildly imaginative. Parameswaran explores with great delicacy that fraught line between provincial life and modern times. There are traces of Chekhov in his writing. These stories have the power to endure.”
—Saïd Sayrafiezadeh, author of When Skateboards Will Be Free