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Aerogrammes: and Other Stories
by Tania James
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0307268918, Hardcover)Guest Reviewer: Karen Russel on Tania James's Aerogrammes
Karen Russell, a native of Miami, has been featured in The New Yorker’s debut fiction issue and on The New Yorker’s 20 Under 40 list, and was chosen as one of Granta’s Best Young American Novelists. She is the author of the short story collection St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves and the novel Swamplandia!, one of the New York Times Book Review’s Ten Best Books of 2011.
Fans of Tania James's sensational debut novel, Atlas of Unknowns, already know her to be a writer with the panoramic scope and liveliness of Charles Dickens, the sure-footed lyricism and emotional precision of Jhumpa Lahiri, the rocketship ebullience of Junot Diaz, and a voice and vision that are inimitably her own. Now those of us who have been eagerly awaiting James's story collection have a reason to celebrate—Aerogrammes is sensational. After reading Atlas, I became a James evangelist, raving to friends that she was a natural-born novelist, her gifts perfectly adapted to the large canvas of the novel. Now, with Aerogrammes, Tania James reveals that she is a master of the short story; I felt that I learned so much about craft by reading Aerogrammes. Each of these nine extraordinary stories is expertly structured, moving inexorably towards conclusions that feel both surprising and true. By turns ebullient and poignant, pinwheeling and wise, they are always devastatingly candid when it comes to their central preoccupations: exile and identity, the faultlines inside a family, grief and love. James's prose sparkles on the sentence level, her imagery pulsing with color and surprise (“Chilean flamingoes with their knotted knees”). Her first sentences are masterpieces in miniature, and you can feel the storyteller's pleasure that hums through every line of the collection. From “Ethnic Ken”: “My grandfather believed that the guest bathroom drain was a portal for time travel.” From “Girl Marries Ghost”: “That year, thousands entered the lottery for only a handful of husbands.”
What I most admire about Aerogrammes is James's commitment to making her stories both comic and consequential—the humor always underscores some powerful insights into her characters' innermost natures. She is such a generous writer, deeply sympathetic to her characters' yearnings, a compassionate chronicle of even their craziest schemes and their stillborn ambitions (Mr. Panicker waits in vain for his son to visit him in "Aerogrammes"; Minal Auntie scrubs at her dark face and dreams of a paler alter ego dancing in the glow of a huge trophy in "Light and Luminous"). James lets us laugh at her protagonists' predicaments without ever making them the butt of the joke. Equally at ease in the first and third-person points of view, James creates characters who are wonderfully particular—I especially loved the widower who assuages his grief by burying roadkill, and Minal Auntie, a middle-aged dancing teacher who blames her students for her failure to ascend the Everest of the India Day competition (“Pinky, when you call to Krishna, don't make that sexy face”). But while the characters of Aerogrammes felt wholly original, the collection's themes are universal. These stories explore homesickness in all of its varieties: that of men and women who leave their birth countries, of children who outgrow their parents, of grandparents who outlive their usefulness to their children, of haunted people separated from their loved ones by oceans and decades, shipwrecked in the present to read the tea leaves of letters and photographs, brittle memories (one son, on trying to analyze his father's handwriting: "The rest of the letter is in Malayalam, and thus illegible to me"; a woman who returns to visit her chimpanzee "brother" struggles to recover their wordless language).
I was awestruck by Aerogrammes, scenes of which have stayed with me with the vibrancy of my own memories thanks to the potency of James's prose. I would recommend this collection to anyone looking for proof that the short story is joyfully, promiscuously, thrillingly alive.
(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:58:09 -0400)
"From the highly acclaimed author of Atlas of Unknowns ("Dazzling. . . One of the most exciting debut novels since Zadie Smith's White Teeth" --San Francisco Chronicle) a bravura collection of short stories set in locales as varied as London, Sierra Leone, and the American Midwest that captures the yearning and dislocation of young men and women around the world. In "Light & Luminous," a gifted instructor of Indian dance falls victim to the vanity and insecurities that have followed her into middle age. In "Tonto and the Undertaker," a widower copes with his loss by cruising Kentucky highways and burying roadkill. In "The Scriptological Review" a damaged young man obsessively studies his father's handwriting in hopes of making sense of his suicide. And in "What to Do with Henry," a white woman from Ohio takes in the illegitimate child her husband left behind in Sierra Leone, as well as an orphaned chimpanzee who comes to anchor this strange new family. With Aerogrammes, Tania James once again introduces us to a host of delicate, complicated, and beautifully realized characters who find themselves separated from their friends and families and communities by race and pride and grief"--
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