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I Am an Executioner: Love Stories Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 10, 2012
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“Bold and fiercely imaginative, captivating and surprising . . . Parameswaran has put together a selection of love stories that are anything but typical. His stories range from the thoughts of a fugitive tiger on an unintentional killing spree, to a geriatric love triangle played out in film, to interspecies relations on an alien planet where killing your mate is the norm. Each story speaks of love in its own way: violent, tender, thoughtless, fleeting, strong, empty, natural, romantic, enduring. How is love expressed? And what does that expression lead to? Love is ubiquitous, but it’s also incredibly diverse, as the characters in I Am an Executioner show. . . . Each story draws you in and keeps you there, enthralled, to the end. . . . Dark and intense, quiet and strong, a fascinating study of love in all its forms.”—Leah Sims, Portland Book Review
“I Am an Executioner has the power to change your definition of love. Imaginative and rich in their prose, yet darkly humorous and at times stomach-turning, each story is unique in its concept and process. In fact, the title describes the author well—he is a superb executioner of short fiction. This powerful collection is not for the faint of heart.” —Vivienne Finche, Sacramento News & Review
“When you read [the stories in I Am an Executioner] in succession, noting the subtle ways in which they play off each other, what emerges is a distinct sensibility and storytelling flair. [It] bears the subtitle ‘Love Stories,’ but this is not the stuff of conventional romance: layers of doubt and betrayal run through these stories, even the ones that are about genuinely caring relationships. At least four of the pieces involve people hiding significant things from their spouses, but one never gets a sense of repetition; instead, it’s as if the angle of a mirror has been slightly altered to give us a new perspective on love and its possibilities. . . . This is a difficult book to categorise. It could be said that it is about passionate and duplicitous lovers, about narrators who are unreliable and deeply perceptive in turn, about animals and extraterrestrials who are strangers to people, and about people who are strangers to each other. But ultimately, a clinical listing of ‘abouts’ is an inadequate way to describe such a varied yet organically linked collection. This is among the most stimulating story collections I’ve read in a long while, and a reminder of the possibilities that still exist for short fiction in a jaded, post-post-modern world.” —Jai Arjun Singh, The Sunday Guardian
“Don’t be misled by the subtitle of this offbeat debut collection: for Parameswaran, ‘love’ bespeaks deadly passion. These tales, with their grotesque imagery and bathetic reversals in tone, [contain] flashes of brilliance. Parameswaran shows a mastery of perspective and voice that hints at greater things to come.” —David Evans, Financial Times (May 26, 2012)
“The aphorism says a ‘thin line’ divides love and hate, but in fact they operate more like two circles in a Venn diagram with a thin sliver of overlap. All of the stories in I Am an Executioner live in that borderland where love and hate intersect. His stories spring from an incredibly diverse group of characters. . . . Phenomenal.” —Catie Disabato, Full Stop
“This smorgasbord of stories explores love’s dark underbelly with a remarkably broad purview. . . .The title story is deeply affecting, at times devastating. Parameswaran has a sharp sense of what makes a story work, his stories reveal their mysteries gradually, and very cleverly zero in on the heart of the matter. . . . Unsettling but highly inventive.” —Nauman Khalid, Huffington Post UK
“Love in Parameswaran’s debut takes a darker, less expected form. In nine tales, [he] presents the world through the eyes of the misunderstood, the murderous, the megalomaniacs, and the mad. In these tales, tenderness blends in disturbing seamlessness with bloodthirst, and violence is carried out with quiet intimacy. Yet these stories, as the collection’s cover suggests, are not without a certain strange humor. They are not bleak, nor are they sadistic . . . Parameswaran creates a tone all his own, something like an even blend of Roald Dahl as he wrote for children and Roald Dahl as he wrote for adults. Even as his stories twist and turn, mounting in horror, I can imagine them paired with the whimsical illustrations of Quentin Blake. . . . The author’s ability as a sculptor of the written word is dazzling. . . . [His] blend of horror, tenderness, and humor works as it does because beneath its violence and wit lies compassion for even the most deeply disturbed among us. Despite their eccentric appearances, these are but stories of universal human experience, twisted slightly. . . . Triumphant.” —Mia Nakaji Monnier, Hyphen Magazine
“Dangerous, misunderstood creatures—a man-eating tiger, a wild elephant, and the title executioner, to name just a few—populate Parameswaran’s debut collection of stories, [which] offers a fiercely creative vision of what it takes to stay alive. As the title suggests, where there is love, death is near, [but] these stories are more than well-executed variations on a theme. In some of these stories’ finest moments, Parameswaran patiently teases out the most tender, human impulses of his characters—from the classified agent who struggles with her urge to simply to tell her husband about her day to the quack doctor [who] derives a real glimmer of joy from believing he has ‘helped, not harmed’ a fellow being. Death may be inescapable, but life is still a tender thing to be savored. . . . These stories are without fail brightly original, and despite his dark themes, there’s a real levity in Parameswaran’s writing. This is a world of many fools, but few villains—a world where tragedy and farce are plentiful but evil is debatable: for every death or disappearance in this collection, there’s a wink.” — Mythili Rao, The Daily Beast
“A compulsive and infectious narrative restlessness marks Parameswaran’s first collection. And although tagged with the subtitle ‘Love Stories,’ Parameswaran’s work demonstrates about the same relationship to traditional literary debuts as the insects in his strange and beautiful story ‘On the Banks of Table River [Planet Lucina, Andromeda Galaxy, AD 2319]’ do to the earthlings who have colonized their planet. His storytellers are wedded to a 21st-century experimentalism, continually uncaging themselves from realist fiction. From tigers and elephants [to] a man in a yellowing photograph [and] a fiercely committed spy, they form an unpredictable and often charming cavalcade, revealing both the particularity of what they perceive and the extent of what they misunderstand, or simply miss. Raptly attentive to their own narratives, they gradually paint us into corners; we must peer around and above them. . . . Parameswaran’s characters, humans and animals both, find themselves puzzled by love and power, devotion and detachment. [His] stories combine narrative brio, ringing voices and beguilingly looped plots. . . . Realist revelation and postmodern speculation proceed in parallel. . . .These are very much stories that make us ‘wonder the universe.’” —Chandrahas Choudhury, The New York Times Book Review
“Parameswaran’s prose has the tender-savage texture of a rare steak veined with blood.”—Nina Martyris, The Millions
“Compelling. . . . In Parameswaran’s universe, some of the people and places may seem familiar; others are quite obviously figments of an imagination that freewheels in style. Each story is distinct and intricately crafted, with characters come to life with his storytelling, which is a wonderfully balanced potpourri of morbidity, humour and sensitivity. There are no loose ends, no repeated voices. It’s almost as though Parameswaran, who was born in India but raised in America since he was a baby, set himself a new challenge with each story. . . . All those who had resigned themselves to fictional Indian immigrants being predictable, boring and flat, pour yourselves a drink and raise a toast to Parameswaran. Desis haven’t been this much fun in the pages of a book in years. . . . [A] very impressive debut.” —Deepanjana Pal, Mumbai Boss
“Strange, magical love stories . . . Worlds of unrestrained creativity . . . Very dark and yet very funny.” —Tarra Gaines, Culture Map Houston
“In spite of its title, death, not love, is the subject of Rajesh Parameswaran’s debut collection. His tales play with mortality so frequently that doom and destruction merely become props in a series of dark, comedic circumstances. . . . The author expertl...
About the Author
Rajesh Parameswaran’s stories have appeared in McSweeney’s, Granta, Zoetrope: All-Story, and Fiction. “The Strange Career of Dr. Raju Gopalarajan” was one of three stories for which McSweeney’s earned a National Magazine Award in 2007, and it was reprinted in The Best American Magazine Writing. He lives in New York City.
Top Customer Reviews
1. The Infamous Bengal Ming
The Story: This story is told by the tiger of the cover, who resides in captivity- a life he was born into. His main concerns are his mating partner's aloofness and his intimidation by the alpha male of the cage. Oh, and his unconditional love for the zookeeper who feeds him.
My Thoughts: I found the narrative voice of the tiger really effective. It sounds strange to say that a tiger could pull off a believable character you care about, but it works. The story is simple and heartbreaking and there are moments when the tiger's reckless actions take your breath away and really kick-start your maternal instincts! There is an innocence and naivety about the tiger, who loves his captor unquestioningly and everything he does, although disastrous consequences ensue, was done for the right reasons and out of care or love or fear. What he does after he escapes the zoo is often bloody, brutal and horrifying but you still worry about him and want to protect him because what he does is instinctual not evil, and, to him, beautiful because it equates with his life and his survival.
2. The Strange Career of Dr Raju Gopalarajan
The Story: Gopi Kumar moves himself, and his reluctant wife Manju, from India to the USA. Gopi is a confirmed trickster and fraudster, having previously impersonated a police officer to move on some traffic outside their window. Having always wanted to be a doctor, Gopi decides to fulfill the ultimate American Dream and make himself one...
My Thoughts: This was a really interesting story which sees Gopi's self-awarded doctorate put to some grotesque, and harmful, uses. The narrative describing how he collects his patients (largely immigrants who can't afford the American health-care system) in bus stops and happily cuts them is gripping. The story is underpinned by Gopi's relationship with his wife which is very moving. They rarely communicate or have sex. She describes him as flaring up with passion and enthusiasm when he's excited about something but it soon dies down when he's bored. I think most couples can relate. Gopi's hopes, dreams and aspirations are built on shoddy foundations and he drags his wife along for the ride...resulting in sorrow for them both.
3. Four Rajeshes
The Story: This story is written as though a man is looking at an old photograph of an unknown man, and it is inspiring him to write a story about him. However, the imaginary photo-man interjects in the narrative too! The photo-man/narrator is the manager of a train station and employs a strange youth who proves to be more sinister and trouble-making than he ever expected.
My Thoughts: This story had me less gripped than the first two but I still really enjoyed it. I really liked the way the imaginary man from the photo, who provided the muse for this story, kept butting in to claim the author had got things wrong and was making him look stupid or perverted! The author portrays him as committing homosexual affairs behind his fiance's back...which he highly disapproves of. The man he employs (named R) is a really fascinating character too- you're never quite sure if he is a sinister and creepy boy on the verge of madness (as the narrator paints him) or if he is a misunderstood genius and it is the narrator who is the strange one. The ending surprised me!
4. I Am An Executioner
The Story: This one is about a man whose occupation as an executioner becomes a barrier between himself and his new wife. Particularly when a young girl arrives at Death Row.
My Thoughts: I ADORED this story. It was so gorgeously written and had so many layers. The executioner hangs and stones people to death with such a detached manner that it becomes horribly disturbing to read. He befriends the people who find themselves on Death Row and can't understand why they cry and plead and beg him for their lives when their time comes. It's not his concern. He just wants a light-hearted chat and to maybe share a beer. We get flashes of his insanity; the way he disregards these pleas of the friends he has made, his evaluation by a psychologist as deeply disturbed, the strange and unexplained horrible event that happened to his first wife at his hand. He has acquired his new wife through a dating website, where it becomes apparent he has lied about his job, age, looks and height to secure her. She sits all day in filthy clothes and abject depression. His unwanted physical advances made my skin crawl. The ending had me in tears.
The Story: An wife in surburbia sits in her living room with her husband's dead body at her feet. She continues as normal, until the guilt of 'did she/ didn't she' leads her to remember her past.
My Thoughts: This was another story which didn't hold my interest as well as the others. I found it a little tedious. Again, it is narrated by the wife who is an unreliable narrator, and we get flashes of her not-so rational behaviour towards her daughter and her daughter's roommate. It's like Henry James's 'The Turn of the Screw'...did she kill him or is she mad? You want to find out, but I found the explanation unsatisfactory.
6. Narrative of Agent 97-4702
The Story: The narrator is part of the Agency which, from what I could gather, is a kind of surveillance organisation which enrols people secretly and then gets them to spy on other people who are subject to investigation. It's a Fight Club thing; no one talks about the Agency and no one knows who else is in it. I'm pretty sure that this takes place in a dystopian future too. The story takes the form of a confession that te narrator is submitting, admitting to accessing unauthorized information on the person she has been surveying.
My Thoughts: This story was very interesting in the way that the narrator was so cold and detached towards the people she was meticulouly following and writing reports on all day long. The notes she makes are so detailed, down to the tiniest gestures he makes, to what he says to his wife each morning and in what tone. It seems as though the narrator has been trained to be emotionless and not become emotionally involved with the subjects of the investigations, to the point where she even stages a four year relationship with one just to spy on him more thoroughly. I read it aloud to my boyfriend and I think that made the narrative seem even more stilted and unnatural, which I loved because it fit the character so perfectly. I found it gripping and, as the story went on and she becomes more and more disallusioned about the Agency and its implications and wanting to find out more about it, I felt the same.
7. Bibhutibhushan Mallik's Final Storyboard
The Story: Bibhutibhushan Mallik is the production designer for famous film director Jogesh Sen. And he is also having an affair with Sen's wife. His dream is to direct his own film and move with Sen's wife to NYC, but things start to unravel AFTER he gets his big break.
My Thoughts: I liked this story, but didn't love it. The narrative is from Mallik's perspective and you become aware that you're not entirely sure why Sen's wife is having this affair. She seems reluctant to return his advances and you're fairly sure she never really wants to leave her husband. Why then? The ending also really confused me. I liked the story of how Sen became a renowned film director and the descriptions of the film sets etc because imagining these two young guys in India filming boys in trees and tying cameras to the backs of wagons was really cool. It was quite obvious that Sen was the real genius of the operation and Mallik only thought he was...and it is always compelling to hear the point of view of a seriously deluded character!
8. Elephants in Captivity (Part One)
The Story: A difficult one to explain, but basically the narrator is watching some elephants in a circus and imagining how they came to be there, which he can do easily as he believes he can communicate with them. The elephant who tells him the story (through her written autobiography) is called Shanti, who was the daughter of the old herd leader Amuta. However, to make things even more complicated there are extensive footnotes on every page of Shinta's narrative, with backstory about how Amuta came to be the pack leader and her betrayal of the previous leader Ania told in a Shakespearean or Revenge Tragedy style. There are also footnotes relating to the narrator's own life and his family's history of suicide, and his own resemblance to an elephant and how that may have occurred.
My Thoughts: This was my favourite story of all- it is just brilliant. At first I was a bit put off by the footnotes; I usually love footnotes and unusually shaped narratives but there were so many of them and so long! However, as soon as I got to the dialogue between Amuta and Ania I was absolutely hooked. I loved the way it was in the style of a Revenge Tragedy and how the elephants had these huge soliloquies and Aside's, as that is really how I imagine elephants talking! They are very wise and regal animals, with a hint of ancientness about them too, which the dialogue reflected nicely. The narrator's story is also interesting; his parents died in a car accident... in that they accidentally sat in their car in a closed garage with the motor running, clasping hands. Hmm! He is obviously a very deluded and quite deranged narrator, and I was so excited when he referred to Charles Kinbote from Nabokov's 'Pale Fire' as I had long been thinking whilst reading the other stories that Parameswaran must have been influenced by Naokov. Charles Kinbote is an incredibly strange and complicated narrator, who is both a literary creation and not, which is the same with the narrator of this story. Both stories are brilliant and I highly recommend reading this if you like unusually structured stories with questionable narrators! Metafiction at its best!
9. On the Banks of Table River (Planet Lucina, Andromeda Galaxy, AD 2319)
The Story: As the title suggests, this story is set on another planet in the future. Humans have occupied it and live alongside the native 'beings' who have many legs and feelers. The narrator, Thoren, is one of the beings, and he has a daughter, Nippima. He has a fraught relationship with her due to her interest in humans and her recent job of giving them tours of the planet. However, her actions may be a lot worse than even he thought possible.
My Thoughts: I was dubious about the title as I am not really into Sci-Fi but this story is so brilliant that I quickly forgot all that! I loved the characters and the way the aliens had such a distinctive voice and customs. There are parallels with humans, such as Thoren's teenage daughter, insead of shrugging at him constantly, 'twitched her feelers indifferently- an irritating gesture'. I loved this as it not only showed familiar gestures in a new light but also showed how human customs and gestures were perhaps infiltrating the new planet. Humans seem to treat the planet either as a holiday camp or a science experiment, which makes you sympathise more with the aliens than the humans...in an Avatar kinda way! The main part that will stick in your head is the mating ritual of the aliens. I imagined it as two praying mantis's fighting to the death...it is a horrific and brilliant description and was my favourite part of the story.
Overall, I loved this book of short stories. Most of them were fantastic and even the stories I found less interesting had amazing ideas behind them. I know I will definitely be re-reading some of them in the future; particularly the last two as Parameswaran's writing is beautiful and his ideas are flawless. I am a huge fan of an unreliable narrator, and if you are too you really need to read this book.
This Book has Inspired me to Read: Re-read 'Pale Fire' by Vladimir Nabokov.
Three Words to Describe this Book: Gripping. Moving. Thought-Provoking.
Rajesh Parameswaran's debut collection, I Am an Executioner: Love Stories, introduced me to a writer with some terrific promise. A number of the nine stories in this collection started with fascinating ideas and memorable characters, and left me thinking about them even as I moved on to the next story. While a few of the more experimental stories fell flat for me, there are definitely some stories to savor, including the opening story, "The Infamous Bengal Ming," narrated by a tiger who realizes he has fallen in love with his trainer at the zoo; "The Strange Career of Dr. Raju Gopalarajan," which tells of a former CompUSA employee so drawn to becoming a doctor that he actually masquerades as one; "Demons," in which a woman's wish for a moment's peace from her husband's nagging leads to disastrous results during Thanksgiving; and "Bibhutibhushan Mallik's Final Storyboard," narrated by the art director of a famous Indian movie director who wants to break away from his boss and old friend to make his own movies and start his own life anew. I'm not much of a fan of the more free-form story styles, a category into which two of the stories I liked the least fell, because I felt they distracted me from the heart of the characters and the narrative.
I really marveled at Parameswaran's ability to capture many different voices, from the housewife to a train station manager with an inflated sense of self-importance, to tigers and elephants. (My biggest problem with the title story was the voice of the main character, who used a pidgin-type of English I found tremendously distracting.) The stories that worked best for me in this collection were those which laid out the plot fairly simply, only to let me discover all of the amazing nuances of character and narrative he created. I definitely found some of the characters occupying my mind--and some even infiltrated my heart, which is the mark of an excellent storyteller. I look forward to seeing what else Parameswaran has up his sleeve in the future!
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