Anita Anand, 197 pgs, Véhicule Press, vehiculepress.com, $18
Anita Anand’s book of short stories is a diverse meditation on the spaces between exclusion and belonging. A diverse cast of fiercely vulnerable narrators look upon their lives with the empathy and nuanced observations specific to people from the margins. Like a gently swaying crowd they weave, together and separately, in and out of variously tenuous communities, seeking a sensation of fitting in. All the while, Anand plays with self-presentation and attempts to reconcile with with loss and circumstance.
In one story, a “shy exhibitionist” stands naked in the road of her suburban town. In another, a young teen experiments with posing as a prostitute on a family vacation while her parents are out, and in another, a Cameroonian woman tests whitewashing her name while apartment-hunting.
Anand exhibits a stylistic confidence both in her descriptions and in her characters. This is most evident in her use of brusque and unexpected endings, a technique which is more successful in some stories than in others. While the hard stop presents itself most often as pithy and resounding, there are a few instances where it feels forced, lacking sufficient development of mood and complexity. The simple and direct language is striking, especially through often insecure or naïve narrative voices in relation to intricately rendered social conflicts.
In all of her stories, Anand shows a keen awareness and desire to begin conversations about identity politics and thinly-veiled aggressions and prejudices, especially as they relate to intimate relationships. Overall, this collection is cohesive and rhythmic, and showcases a unique, perceptive, and sensitive narrative voice. (Jess Shane)