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Bodies in Motion

Mary Anne Mohanraj

It was art, only art, and so he tried to ignore the twisting in his gut that reminded him that art was not necessarily safe, or sexless. Vivek kept silent, as she moved from sketches to paintings, to longer hours working under the bright lights with nude, naked models. "

Reviewed by Stefani Nellen

Recently, I've come across some "novels in stories"–allegedly interlinked short stories that, presumably, are supposed to achieve the effect of a "normal" novel (the accumulation of details, the layer-by-layer emergence of characters, the arching tension, the overall forward momentum…or whatever the effects of a novel might be). 

As a writer, I can understand the allure of writing a novel in stories: stories offer the writer immediate gratification and room to explore different styles; a novel will hopefully sell better than a collection. However, too many of these hybrids fall short of their promise: a bunch of stories with partial character-overlap doesn’t make for a long, fulfilling tale, even if the stories are excellent. 

So I decided for myself that the concept was basically a marketing ploy –until I picked up Bodies in Motion, which doesn't claim to be anything more than a collection of (related) short stories. And when I read it…I got that novel feeling! 

The stories follow the lives of two Sri Lankan families (who later emigrate to the US) over three generations, ending in the present. Each story focuses on different characters. The individual pieces are short, concise, and often open-ended: vignettes rather than beginning-middle-end stories. The protagonists, particularly the women, move away from their traditional roles and discover new ways of life. 

This change happens across the stories, across time, in small, subtle shifts. Hardly any character achieves an epiphany within the confines of their story, and some stories center on loss and defeat. But overall, the book shows a journey towards independence and self-acceptance. The contrast between Seven Cups of Water and the last story, Monsoon Day, illustrates this development beautifully. The lonely girl of the first story has found her peace and a (delicious) form of happiness in the end. 

I can't wait to read more of Mary Anne Mohanraj's work. Apparently, she's working on a novel featuring some characters from Bodies in Motion. That should be a treat.

Stefani Nellen writer literary fiction and science fiction.

Stefani's other Short Reviews: Claudia Smith "The Sky is A Well"  

Heather Beck "10 Journeys Through the Unknown"

PublisherHarper Perennial

Publication Date: July 2005

Paperback/Hardback? Hardback

First collection?Yes

Awards: Honorable mention, 2007 Association for Asian American Studies Book Awards 

Author bio: Mary Anne Mohanraj isthe author of several books, including Silence and the Word, Torn Shapes of Desire, Aqua Erotica (ed.), Kathryn in the City, The Best of Strange Horizons (ed.), and A Taste of Serendib (a Sri Lankan cookbook)

Read an interview with Mary Anne Mohanraj

If you liked this book you might also like....

Ellen Litman "The Last Chicken in America"

Nathan Englander "For the Relief of Unbearable Urges"

Hanif Kureishi "Love in a Blue Time"

What other reviewers thought:

Audit Trails of Self

Boston Globe


Asian Review of Books



San Francisco Chronicle