Party report soon. …

Party report soon. Still recovering. In the meantime, excerpts from two big reviews of BiM -- one in TimeOut NY, the other in the LA Times. The former is probably the harshest review the book has gotten so far from a real reviewer, though she did quite like the second half. Minor spoilers.

At times, it's easy to dismiss the interlinked stories in Mary Anne Mohanraj's debut collection as a rehash of themes and imagery that have been established as both successful tropes and tired cliches in recent South Asian-American fiction. Tracing two families whose bloodlines entangle in Sri Lanka and later in the U.S., the book's pages are jam-packed with unhappy arranged marriages, descriptions of pungent curries, the name-dropping of fancy universities and degrees, saris worn incongruously in New England snow.

....[T]he first half of Bodies too often gets mired in clunky plots and shock-value gimmicks -- lesbian sex scenes tinged with sadomasochism, domestic violence and murder. Lacking subtlety and character development, these earlier stories seem more like outlines for novels or screenplays....

[F]lat-footed symbolism gives way, thankfully, as Mohanraj's writing builds to a pleasing crescendo in the book's latter half. The quiet internal dramas in "Tightness in the Chest," which skillfully weaves together a man's profound homesickness for Sri Lanka and his unfulfilled desire for a child, are much more effective portraits of pure human heartache. The same holds true in the final piece, "Monsoon Day," which tells of a woman's torrential grief for her deceased maid, presumably her lover. Dwelling on the thorny inner lives of the characters rather than their predictable conflicts with one other, these stories transcend time and place."

-- Reena Jana, Time Out New York

Oof. Thankfully, this one was much more positive, with only minor criticism in the last paragraph. Flatteringly long, too.

"Bodies in Motion," Mary Anne Mohanraj's debut book, is less a collection of stories than a series of snapshots, a highly colored album of two Sri Lankan families in America. Read separately, the stories are a scattering of random images, raising more questions than they answer. Taken together, glossing and expanding on each other, they create a vivid portrait of families in flux, wandering back and forth over borders both geographic and cultural.

There's a little of everything here: arranged marriage and infidelity, political violence and parenting, homosexuality and miscegenation, depression and redemption. There are constants too: the struggle for personal identity, the search for love and security, and a heightened awareness of sensuality in the everyday....

In these linked stories, Mohanraj moves characters in and out of focus, filtering them through multiple perspectives. She especially contrasts public and private personae, a contrast thrown into higher relief by the expectations of a younger generation of American-born children....

Yet the vividness of Mohanraj's characters and their cameo reappearances in different decades and contexts make "Bodies in Motion" paradoxically unsatisfying. The stories become isolated, tantalizing scenes from a saga of immigration rather than independent narratives. The need to fit each one into the larger picture (which entails a fair amount of flipping back and forth to the genealogies in the book's preface) gets in the way of appreciating them individually -- and raises the question of what Mohanraj could achieve at novel length. Let's hope she gives us the chance to find out.

-- Janice P. Nimura, Los Angeles Times (full article)

No pressure or anything... :-/

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