You can tell this is a debut. The collection is uneven, the author seems unsure – some stories don’t have a clear direction, others explain too much (crime in the short genre IMO), as if anxious to not be misunderstood; the language is excessively rich, as if to make sure the reader knows this is literary fiction.
Even so, most stories are told from a deep need for storytelling – they’re sincere, unafraid to tackle the humongous topic of the human condition and at times genuinely moving or reflective. There’s a lot of comedy in these pages, but it’s rather grim – like in A Fine Balance, Mistry looks misery unflinchingly in the eye, only this time it’s mostly poverty of spirit rather than physical want he’s dissecting. Much like the parents that are interwoven curiously into the last story – both a part of it and explicitly marked as being outside of it – you can’t really tell how the author feels about this Parsi community or the memories of his childhood. If we go with his father’s theory on writing, expressed in (or from the edges of) the last story, perhaps he started writing before he had achieved sufficient artistic distance. The emotional entanglement is tangible through the dispassionate tone, but not easy to parse.
One thing that irritated me through all the stories was how women (except for mothers) existed in a constant state of being ogled and used for sexual gratification by the male characters, including by the one who’s clearly the author’s younger self – in one story he even sniffs his neighbours’ underwear and masturbates on it wile they’re away. And it’s all just passing remarks, not really a plot element or symbol or anything of artistic purpose, like it’s just how things are generally, without any judgement or comment. In one story, there is a whole page dedicated to the way stray pubic hairs dance around the wearer’s crotch while she’s floating in the pool; in the same story he ogles some women while they’re sun bathing and when later he sees they’re older, he calls them „the two disappointments“; when one of them seems to show interest in him, she becomes a „horny old cow“. This reminded me in a very unpleasant way of this particular experience of my time in India – being constantly ogled, stalked and groped. And it really bugged me that it was described so uncritically here, like it’s harmless and normal. It isn’t.