Rajesh Parameswaran's I Am an Executioner

I read Rajesh Parameswaran's I Am an Executioner: Love Stories (Knopf, 2012) on my ereader while commuting to and from work on the bus the last few weeks. It was actually kind of an interesting experience diving in and out of the stories because they were all so different.

The range of stories in Parameswaran's collection reminded me of the broad range of stories in Anis Shivani's Anatolia and Other Stories, which I reviewed on this community earlier as did stephenhongsohn. In both collections, the stories were all incredibly different from each other, with very different narrators, narrative voices, writing styles, and types of stories. I enjoyed most of the stories, and many of them also seemed to provide a kind of meta-commentary on different types of writing, as Shivani's collection did as well.

I'll mention a few of the stories that really stood out to me. "The Strange Career of Dr. Raju Gopalarajan" employs a collective narrative voice that reminds me of other stories where the "we" of the small town reveals more about the values and perspectives of the townsfolk than of the putative protagonists. Dr. Gopalarajan is actually a man named Gopi Kumar, an Indian immigrant to the United States who pretends to be a doctor after he is fired from his job at CompUSA. The story explores idea of taking on a new identity and profession in a rather gruesome way as he bungles his way into practicing medicine on some Mexican migrant workers. The climax of the story comes when Gopi's wife faces an illness for which she seeks out Dr. Gopalarajan's help.

Four of the stories feature unreliable narrators or narrative perspectives, where the main character has just a tenuous grasp on what is happening. "The Infamous Bengal Ming" is about a tiger in the zoo who falls in love with a zookeeper but can't fight the instincts of a predator. The title story "I Am an Executioner" has a very interesting narrative voice for a simpleton character who works as the national executioner for a small country. He has difficulty gaining the trust of his new wife after explaining to her what he really does for a living. One of the strangest stories in the collection is "Narrative of Agent 97-4702," which is about the main character's secret life as a spy who observes someone in minute detail but doesn't know why. The revelation in the story about the nature of the spying is quite stunning, especially since the character doesn't quite understand what is really going on. "Bibhutibhushan Mallik's Final Storyboard" describes the title character's plans to run off with his best friend's wife, a woman who carries on this affair in anger and sadness at her husband's infidelities.

Perhaps my favorite story in the collection was "Four Rajeshes," which is Bartleby-esque, dealing with a curious man hired to be a secretary who takes dictation in a cypher language. I also found the final story, "On the Banks of Table River (Planet Lucina, Andromeda Galaxy, AD 2319)" quite fun. It is a science fiction story with an alien narrator (from a bug-like species whose mating habits involve the killing of one parent to serve as food for their just-made larvae). On this other world, the Beings (aliens) and humans coexist, with humans primarily there as business people and as tourists. There are many ways to read the story as allegory for the encounter of different (human) cultures. The only story in the collection that I just couldn't get into and eventually skipped was "Elephants in Captivity (Part One)." Perhaps if I take a look at the print version, I might be able to read it. The story has one of those very self-aware narrative voices and dozens of endnotes (I didn't want to flip back and forth from the main text to the endnotes, which is difficult on my Sony Reader).

All in all, I did like the collection. The language in each story was beautiful, and there was a distinctive narrative voice and style in each story. While I like linked story collections, where the stories all connect to each other somehow, I often find colletions like Parameswaran's more impressive because they span such a wide variety of writing styles across the individual stories.
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