Short stories are a tricky breed. Intuitively, it seems that they would be easier to craft than long form fiction, because you don’t have to keep a reader interested for as long, right? But at the same time, the expectations for short stories are that they will pack more of a punch faster. They’re like novels in concentrated form. So if you’re only going to use so many words, you had better use them wisely and with some kind of a hook for the reader, whether it be an endearing character who develops quickly, thrills and suspense, a unique perspective, or a surprising twist.
All of that is hard to do, which is why short stories aren’t as popular as they otherwise would be for people with short attention spans like me. I have found myself repeatedly disappointed in short story collections, but I Am An Executioner: Love Stories by Rajesh Parameswaran came highly recommended by the Barnes & Noble store. So I gave it a shot.
The first story, “The Infamous Bengal Ming”, blew me away. It’s told in the first person by a tiger in a zoo who realizes that he loves his keeper. When he accidentally mauls the keeper to death, he is lost in the confusion of the situation and recounts his tale of trying to fix things. It was a brilliant idea, brilliantly executed.
The second story, “The Strange Career of Dr. Raju Gopalarajan”, was also fantastic. It’s the story of a man who, secretly from his wife, sets up a medical practice (even though he has no medical training). The story progresses and climaxes with an O. Henry-esque twist. Really well done.
But then Parameswaran’s attempts at tackling unique situations or perspectives begins to falter, and several of the next stories were either incomprehensible or completely forgettable. The only other story that I thoroughly enjoyed was “Narrative of Agent 97-4702″, an interesting take on an Orwellian society in which everyone is under top-secret surveillance by everyone else.
In the end, I’m not sure what to say. I don’t know if the entire collection was worth it just for the three that I really, really liked, or if the fact that he front-loaded the book with the best story set me up for disappointment. I suppose if “The Infamous Bengal Ming” had been buried in the middle of the book I might not have read it, because if some of his middling stories had led off the collection I likely would have bailed. But the brilliance of that first story was enough to keep me hopeful throughout the rest.