Joe Bliven

A House Is a Body
By Shruti Swamy


September 9th, 2020

This collection is the perfect type of literature for me, it's written in beautiful, almost poetic prose, it has interesting subject matter, it forces introspection, and it's in short-form. The stories are pretty consistently 20ish pages long which is such a nice length. This is the type of book that stays fresh and captivating from cover to cover. I swear this book was tailor made for me, I absolutely love it. Far and away the best part of this book is Swamy's writing style, her voice is just so amazing. She is a master of expression. The strange tiny details that she picks out of the stories she tells are so moving. The way she captures setting, emotion and body language through written language was really unbelievable for me. At times I would read a paragraph or sentence and just sigh and exclaim "who is this lady? Where did she come from? How did she learn to do this?" Her style is clearly not universal, I could see someone being frustrated by the mysterious, disjointed, open-ended and avant-garde style that underpins all of these stories. So much of this collection feels like a beautiful, captivating fever dream and I absolutely love it. There are many common themes or elements that pop up in many of the stories. The open-endedness isn't only a stylistic choice but a thematic one, the uncertainty of the future is one theme that sticks out throughout this anthology. Some of the common themes might not be important to many readers such as motherhood and marriage but her handling of these topics is masterful. One common theme that felt a bit strange to be painted all over this collection was colorism. I don't know if this was the authors commentary on colorism in Indian culture or just another tragic and biting piece of the human experience to write about but so many of her characters seemed to have internalized colorist and white standards of beauty. Now is the part where I try to review each individual story, which is tough here because I feel generally the same about all of them and that's "holy crap this is great!":

-Blindness: This one was maybe the most disjointed and fever-dreamy. Maybe she or her publisher put this story at the beginning so you know what you're getting yourself into. This was the only one that really left me going "wait, what just happened?" but I loved it, it gave me a taste and I was ready for more.

-Mourners: This story was beautiful and sad. Some of the moments she captures in her stories are just so vivid. This story takes place in a very small window of time but this moment is set ablaze by the past and being stoked by an uncertain future.

-My Brother At The Station: This story starts out terrifying, the little girl staying at home alone at night, given the circumstances was such a terrifying scenario. This story has a super cool, supernatural horror type element to it that I loved.

-The Siege: This was a crazy medieval-ish story, written in her style. It's so amazing and continues with her themes of marriage and the relationships between men and women, particularly the pain and harm that relationships cause women. This story also literally contains a fever dream, I was wondering if this was some tongue-in-cheek self-awareness on the part of the author but maybe I'm reading to much into it.

-Earthly Pleasures: Damn, just like all of her stories I could analyze them for a lifetime and I'm not even going to start with this one right now. What I will say was the supernatural element to this story was a really cool concept and this is the first of the stories, I believe, to touch on the theme of alcoholism as a means of coping.

-Wedding Season: This story was another cool dip into Indian culture for me, as an outsider. This one was much more slice-of-life than most of the other stories and didn't share as many of the common themes. It was a good story but lower in the ranking for me and less important, i feel, in the context of the collection.

-The Neighbors: This one was also very slice-of-life but it contained more of the common themes that run through this collection than Wedding Season. It was also more interesting to me over all, especially because of the way that you saw into the different characters lives a bit in little hints.

-A Simple Composition: This one was very interesting. Like Blindness, this story left me pretty unsure of what exactly was going on, like was the husband having a psychotic breakdown? Regardless of what was happening the writing and structure of this story really captures the passage of time and the movement between chapters of your life.

-The Laughter Artist: The concept of this story alone is great and its execution is even better.

-Didi: This one is cute, and I think the only story written from a man's perspective.

-A House is a Body: This story is nuts. I absolutely love it and get why it was the titular story.

-Night Garden: This story is such a unique concept for a story. I think my favorite part is the way you can tell something else is going on in the background of her life but you don't know what it is. A lot of the stories have this element but most of them fill you in a little more, this one is just like "no, not really any of your business, but you can watch her dog face off against a cobra though".