Welcome to This Week in Books, where we highlight books just released by small and independent presses. Books have always been a symbol for and means of spreading knowledge and wisdom, and they are an important part of our toolkit in fighting for social justice. If we’re going to move our national narrative away from one of hate and fear, we need books that display empathy, that help us understand different points of view, that show us we aren’t alone, that feed our spirits.
This week we’ll look at I Brake for Moose and Other Stories (Braddock Avenue Books, February 2017), a debut collection of short stories by Geeta Kothari. Kothari teaches writing at the University of Pittsburgh where she also directs the Writing Center and is an editor for the Kenyon Review.
Her stories explore immigration, identity, and globalization with razor-sharp prose. The title story encapsulates these themes as it follows an unnamed main character navigating her Indian parents’ expectations for her, her own conflicting desires, and the intersections of the two.
The whole of the story takes place in the middle of the night at a Friendly’s, with flashbacks to important scenes and exposition. In the hands of a lesser writer, having two characters sitting in a booth at a diner for several hours would come off at best as one of those dreaded boring stories in which nothing happens.
But although the present action never leaves the Friendly’s, the inner world of the main character is rendered with such vivid detail, such exacting uncertainty, that it is impossible to look away.
When her friend asks why her parents are still telling her what to do when she is twenty-six, she responds, “And then I have to explain, explain that immigrant children are expected to succeed and capture all the remaining bits of the American dream that eluded their parents.”
As the two friends sit in the diner, waiting on their bandmate boyfriends, both relationships fragile, crumbling, though one of them doesn’t realize it, the story calls into question the very idea of the “American dream”—is it a monolithic thing, unchanging? Is it something we make for ourselves? Is it different for immigrants?
There are, of course, no easy answers, and I Brake for Moose does not purport to give us any. Other stories take a crack at the idea of “home,” what can happen when a literal ocean comes between two people, and the stress and difficulty of being an immigrant in the wake of September 11.
In a blurb for the book, short story author Lee K. Abbott called the stories in the collection “at once achingly real and deeply imagined, where we find only and always ourselves in masquerade: divided by impossible dreams, deracinated by war and want, and, in the end, made desperate by all the promises others have failed to keep.”
There are no failed promises here, just damn good prose. Pick up a copy of I Brake for Moose and Other Stories directly from Braddock Avenue Books.
Logo art by Max Winter.