A good short story collection is exactly what is needed in these troubled times when those who aren’t afflicted with ADHD are addicted to Netflix or trapped in a toxic relationship with their smartphone. These allow readers to squeeze in bite-sized doses of sublime stories between massive social media surfing sessions. It leaves them feeling good about feeding their brains and souls something that isn’t sludge. But writing short stories is a fraught business and it takes tremendous skill to cram engrossing plots, memorable characters, and literary merit into a few pages.
Over the years, I have come to have a lot of appreciation for the maestros of the craft who pull off this feat in style. Nisha Susan is one of these and her collection of gems, The Women Who Forgot to Invent Facebook and Other Stories, is a master class in the art and craft of storytelling. It is a woman-centric collection and yet it defies expectations on every level. Told with light-hearted whimsy, savage wit and brutal candour, the stories explore many facets of the millennial women, steadfastly refusing to paint them as long-suffering victims, stoic saints or inspiring heroes who are entitled to our pity, admiration and tendency to deify.
With an insouciant wink and a nod, Susan presents a parade of women trying to cope with the challenges of love, sex, careers and everything else in between while dealing with the challenges posed by a world that has been taken hostage by technology with romance and relationships being the earliest casualties.
Over the course of 12 engrossing tales, Susan enables us to make the acquaintance of her quirky, oftentimes unapologetically amoral and thoroughly unlikeable characters. These include bar-hopping buddies who draw up a sex map, talented dancers from Kerala who manage to have rocking sex lives away from the prying eyes of their conservative folks, a Rebecca-inspired tale about a young wife who disappears into her husband’s dead wife’s secret online world of vice, a cheating spouse who becomes murderous on discovering that he is being cheated on, a singer and a Prince who run into each other in a chat room, an author who is trolled to within an inch of her life, and a lady boss who becomes uncomfortably aroused while trying to provide insurance for potential victims of revenge-porn.
It is a riot and a half, because Susan steadfastly refuses to genuflect before the grand altar of political correctness, preferring to present her protagonists with their unsightly warts portrayed to maximum advantage. With bold and brazen strokes of Susan’s brush, these folks wander off the pages of her book and waltz into your life, and you are sorry when the song and dance is over.
Her protagonists lie to each other and themselves, deceive and are deceived, are not above victimising others even as they choose not to rise above their own victimhood, while never being anything less than fascinating and absolutely real. Susan dares you to sit in judgement of this lot or resist their attempt to sweep you into the whirligig of their messed-up realities.This collection is the equivalent of a boxed assortment of expensive Belgian chocolate—every single piece of which sends your senses into overdrive with bursts of exquisite flavour.