by Stefani Nellen
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
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.
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
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.
Nellen writer literary fiction and science fiction.
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Date: July 2005
Awards: Honorable mention, 2007 Association for Asian American Studies Book Awards
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)
with Mary Anne Mohanraj
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"
other reviewers thought:
Audit Trails of Self
Asian Review of Books
San Francisco Chronicle