Polished if placid, the stories in Mehta's debut often revolve around artsy, educated protagonists trying to navigate young adulthood as gay Indian-American men. In the title story, a young Indian-American man takes his boyfriend, Jeremy, home to West Virginia to meet his parents and his overbearing grandfather, Bapuji. The narrator resents having to hide the fact that he is in a gay relationship from his grandfather, and has conflicted feelings when the old man hits it off with Jeremy. Another displaced grandparent appears in "Citizen," where 80-something Ranjan bombs her U.S. citizenship exam despite weeks of lessons from her aimless grandson, Pradeep. While the older generation struggles to adjust to life in the States, the first- or second-generation protagonists encounter their own identity crises as well. In "Floating," Darnell and his boyfriend, Sid, take a trip to India, where they juggle the pain of homophobia and the guilt of privilege after having been scammed. Guilt plays out more flamboyantly in "The Cure": having learned that his immigrant parents have become millionaires, the narrator develops a habit of burning money—literally. While ethnic and sexual identity are central to Mehta's protagonists, the book is most successful in its treatment of postgraduate angst, love, and rejection, and the torment of artistic ambition. (June)
There are great realistic relationship stories [in Quarantine], of meetings, breakups, and the times in between...patrons will read it because of the promise evidenced by this young writer.
Traversing queer love, sex and the myths of cultural conservatism, this young writer…challenges the legitimacy of the American Dream.
Because Rahul Mehta’s characters are so richly and deeply rendered, because action and situation are so closely observed, these stories transcend all the categories that they are also determined to cut across. Quarantine is the best first collection I have read in over twenty years.”l
Quarantine is an insightful and compellingly readable collection of stories in which Rahul Mehta masterfully explores the emotions, the conflicts, the complex accommodations of being gay and Indian American.
Mehta’s voice is smart, intimate without being over-the-shoulder, tells secrets from the armchair, and always gestures toward something inexplicable and heretofore unknown in the next room. The stories in this collection make me want to burn money, to have more courage and to fall in love.
The stories in Rahul Mehta’s Quarantine amplify a surprising new voice: gentle, even tender, but powerful.
QUARANTINE is an extraordinary book that transcends gender and race and culture and sexual identity to speak to our universal humanity and the quest we all share for a self.
Debut short-story collection explores the lives of gay Indian-American men caught between multiple cultures.
The quarantine in Mehta's eponymous story is not a medical situation but a kind of forced cultural dislocation imposed, as quarantines often are, for the benefit of those secreted away. Typically it's the elderly parents of Indian immigrants who must endure a painful relocation to move in with their adult children who are bound by competing feelings of duty and guilt. Trapped in a country they don't understand, they lash out at their reluctant caretakers. The stories are told by fully assimilated American-born grandchildren who sometimes know less about India then their grandparents know about America. That many of the stories are set in West Virginia and all of the narrators are gay makes for a unique worldview. "Citizen," a sweet story about a young man's attempts to help his senile grandmother prepare for American citizenship, displays a comic touch, whereas "Quarantine" and "A Better Life," which open and close the collection, are considerably darker. Mehta is also interested in same-sex relationships, especially when they are on the verge of failing. These stories of couples on life support offer an abundance of bittersweet moments. Not only must these young men navigate the minefields that all people in love must meander through, but they must also deal with the strain of explaining their homosexuality to parents who grew up in cultures far less permissive than those in which they have raised their children. A mother's pragmatic question—"So who does the cooking and cleaning?"—contains as many layers as an onion.
A rich study of family ties, romantic failings and cultural disconnection told in crisp, clean prose.