Books: Crazy, Deadly Love

May 17, 2012

These are
the typical love stories: beautiful young lovers blissfully discovering one
another’s hearts and bodies; prideful rivals stubbornly seething at each other
amid the steam of sexual tension; heavy glances, starry nights, wrinkled hands
held tight...

But Rajesh
Parameswaran is no Jane Austen, and he is certainly no Nicholas Sparks. Love in
his debut anthology, I
Am an Executioner: Love Stories
takes a darker, less expected form. In nine tales, the author 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 in the manner of The Girl with the Dragon
or Yoko
’s Hotel
. 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.

Ming, the
captive Bengal tiger of I
Am an Executioner
opening tale, would have felt easily at home in a children’s book, until the
fateful day on which we as the readers meet him. Personified to neurotic
perfection, he is an instantly sympathetic character who wants nothing more in
the world but to be fed his breakfast and to have his affections returned by
his (human) keeper, the pudgy, balding Kitch. However, his crush quickly turns
obsessive, and its tragic end, by the time it occurs, feels all but inevitable.
With each turn of events, Parameswaran holds his squirming reader rapt,
building and building his world with excruciating detail and undeniable skill.

The author’s
ability as a sculptor of the written word is dazzling. Every one of his nine
stories is told in a different voice, each with its own distinct verbal ticks
and rhythms. Some are more likable than others, but all are colored by the
author’s obvious enthusiasm for storytelling.

In a recent
interview with Jacob Silverman, Parameswaran discusses his
love of the writing process. While many writers love writing only once the
painful part of producing a text has ended and the finished product lies
printed in their hands, Parameswaran claims to love the hard labor itself:

“I hear writers
who say it’s almost like working in a coal mine or something,” he says. “But
for me, it’s like play in the fullest sense of the word. I really like doing

sentiment bursts forth from the pages of I
Am an Executioner
manifesting itself in inventive worlds, quirky characters, and scenarios that
blend the mundane with the magical, the fantastical, and the awful.

                    Photo of the author by Michael Lionstar

informing Parameswaran’s stories is his Indian heritage, which he passes onto
most of his human characters, from the turn-of-the-century Brahmin in “Four
Rajeshes” to Manju Kumar, the Texas transplant of “The Strange Career of Dr.
Raju Gopalarajan” who sings of Krishna and always wears saris. If Executioner’s characters are colored by Indian
culture, though, they come alive because of their mysterious behaviors and
curious motivations.

Parameswaran’s zeal for writing is also the root of Executioner’s weaknesses. Despite their
differences in voice, all nine narrators share a tendency toward verbosity and
excessive self-reference. At its best, this means beautiful scenic description
and poignant revelation when the reader recognizes those tragic flaws that the
characters cannot see in themselves.

At its
worst, though, it means redundant bits of circumlocution and rambling
meta-conversation between layers of narrator, as exhibited painfully in
“Elephants in Captivity (Part One).” Told on two levels simultaneously, this
story is a back-and-forth between a main narrative -- related by an escaped
elephant—and a body of extensive footnotes -- written by the elephant’s

translator, a man of dubious elephant ancestry, regales the reader with
anecdotes of human suicide, elephant death, and his own pachydermal penis, stories
so loosely connected that they build the expectation of a climactic, revelatory
ending that pieces everything together with a bang. Instead, the plot points are
all left hanging.

Still, these
frustrating moments can’t overshadow all that is triumphant about I Am an Executioner. Through elephants and aliens,
housewives and intelligence agents, these stories provide insight into
surprisingly relatable minds.

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.

Monnier is a graduate of Middlebury College who lives and writes in Los