Picking up Vivek Wilson’s Dirt Tracks, you soon realise that the plot (which, from the violent cover, you assume is a thriller) offers mild suspense crafted into a fairly interesting, occasionally touching but gradually unfolding story. So, while Dirt Tracks promises to be (and is) violent, at least in places, it pleasantly turns out to be much more.
The story is set in picturesque Nagercoil in Tamil Nadu (an autobiographical element is hinted at here). Prepare to zoom into the lives of best friends Shiva and Jacob, who encounter each other in school in a bully-and-victim relationship (violently inclined Shiva being the bully) but later bond for life, the crux of the matter being that Jacob rescues Shiva from Shravan, the lecherous local goon and Shiva’s sworn enemy. Peaceful, sensitive Jacob plays a vital role in changing Shiva and leading him down the milder and kinder path. They welcome humorous Gred, Forge and quiet but mature Perusu into their gang. And the story rolls on.
A key point in the book turns out to be a mundane incident: Jacob has a crush on a girl called Swathi after a series of exchanged stares. Twice he approaches her politely, but she “mysteriously” rejects him. Jacob, inexperienced in matters of the heart, is shattered and Shiva is outraged on his behalf. From then on, the plot keeps zooming in on this single incident and keeps coming back to it. This can get a tad monotonous, but a lot of characters are highlighted because of it, so it could just be essential. Shiva falls for and even commits to Swathi’s best friend Sapna simply because she is stunningly pretty. The turn of events is a little hard to digest when you expect him to learn from Jacob’s blunder of being smitten by mere appearance.
The narrative’s enduring focus on Shiva and Jacob’s families and the faintly evident mystery concealed within it make the novel worth your while. The tangle of relationships that forms slowly but surely has been cleverly created. In the end, the novel grapples with a moral question concerning violence and exemplifies Shiva and Jacob’s ways of dealing with it (succumbing to violence, in my view).
Overall, the novel reads easily and the scenes flow naturally into each other, though a few seem repetitive. The gruesome fight scenes could have been toned down a bit. Suspense fans may like this one, but may not find it unputdownable. Being the writer’s debut novel, it holds the promise of the future, which we look forward to.