This is a review of the book I am an Executioner, by Rajesh Parameswaran, a series of short stories purporting to be about love. I say “purporting” because, while they are indeed love stories – even if you stretch the definition somewhat – I found the title of the book very revealing, because most of them seemed to be as much about death as they did love. In addition, while love did feature heavily as a theme, romantic love did not, so using the term “love stories” on the front cover could be interpreted as being misleading.
The stories are in many ways disturbing. As a mother with a baby, I had trouble reading the first story from the POV of an escaped tiger and its treatment of the “human cub” it comes across. The story of the repressed wife who goes to Thanksgiving dinner with her husband dead on the living room floor is, again, something out of my comfort zone. But then again, this isn’t a bad thing, and I find it helpful to leave my comfort zone occasionally. The tone was helped by the liberal helpings of humour, often black and certainly always dark, but nonetheless there, which was a welcome distraction. There is perhaps an over-reliance of the experiences of Asian migrants living in the United States, which is part of Parameswaran’s own story, but then again if one does not write what one knows – to some extent at least – then the work can come off feeling contrived and unbelievable. These stories, even those from the perspective of animals, are neither of those.
My one criticism is that some of the stories felt unfinished. Four Rajeshes I thought was too open at the end, and Elephants in Captivity (Part One) did feel like it would have benefited from Part Two and perhaps even Part Three. Even the final tale, On the Banks of the Table River, left a little too much unanswered for my taste. Perhaps Parameswaran’s writing is too subtle for my palate, which is certainly possible, but it did leave a sense of vague dissatisfaction upon completion of the book.
That said, however, it is an exceptional first collection of short stories. They are well written, original, inventive and ultimately believable, if occasionally unnerving, and are certainly not the bland tales which one may expect from a debut author. Ultimately, if you are looking for a collection which will stay with you long after you finished the last word, then I am an Executioner is a book for you.