Today I’m back with another Algonquin book tour for A House is A Body by Shruti Swamy. Thanks to NetGalley and Algonquin Books for the e-ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. This book is out 11 August 2020!
Goodreads: A House is a Body
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Release Date: 11 August 2020
Genre: Literary Fiction, Short Stories
In two-time O. Henry-prize winner Swamy’s debut collection of stories, dreams collide with reality, modernity collides with antiquity, myth with true identity, and women grapple with desire, with ego, with motherhood and mortality. In “Earthly Pleasures,” Radika, a young painter living alone in San Francisco, begins a secret romance with one of India’s biggest celebrities. In “A Simple Composition,” a husband’s moment of crisis leads to his wife’s discovery of a dark, ecstatic joy and the sense of a new beginning. In the title story, an exhausted mother watches, distracted and paralyzed, as a California wildfire approaches her home. With a knife blade’s edge and precision, the stories of A House Is a Body travel from India to America and back again to reveal the small moments of beauty, pain, and power that contain the world.
Buy: Amazon (US)
The winner of two O. Henry Awards, Shruti Swamy’s work has appeared in The Paris Review, the Kenyon Review Online, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. In 2012, she was Vassar College’s 50th W.K. Rose Fellow, and has been awarded residencies at the Millay Colony for the Arts, Blue Mountain Center, and Hedgebrook. She is a Kundiman fiction fellow, a 2017 – 2018 Steinbeck Fellow at San Jose State University, and a recipient of a 2018 grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation. Her story collection A House Is a Body is forthcoming in August from Algonquin Books.
I’m not even sure where to begin with reviewing this collection of short stories. They are more often than not simply not my jam and yet I continue to read them in the hopes that I’ll come across that one collection that absolutely blows me away and I will finally find peace with what I often feel is an elusive search. I was hoping that A House is A Body would be that for me, and while I enjoyed some of the stories, I have to be honest and say that I was confused for the majority (even with the ones I enjoyed). That said, I think that’s more to do with my personal preference, and I have no doubt that people who are lovers of short stories will love diving into this very beautifully written collection.
What I appreciated most about Swamy’s writing is that she does an incredible job writing stories that are completely rooted in fantasy/mythology and those that are rooted in reality (with sprinklings of magical realism). There is a dreamlike quality to Swamy’s writing that makes it feel as if you’re literally floating along in your mind with each story that you dive into; it felt very surreal at times.
There’s a good balance between fantasy and reality in this collection although I think I much preferred the ones rooted in fantasy and that has more to do with my love/hate relationship with magical realism. However, the one element that really ties all these stories together is the undercurrent of tragedy and grief, and anger and sorrow that runs through them–she covers some heavy topics. I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect but the depth of the emotions that run through these stories really does jump straight off the page at you. One thing that I found a little… weird(?) is that quite a few of these stories had strangely sexual situations in them that threw me off and I felt they were… weirdly unnecessary? I don’t know. Maybe this is where my confusion and lack of understanding of the style short stories are usually written in comes into play though.
Overall, reading this collection of short stories was an interesting experience (and I really do mean experience because it takes you on some mental journeys)! In the end though, I couldn’t get over the confusion I felt while reading which often overshadowed my enjoyment and left me feeling very detached from the stories. I loved Swamy’s writing though and I think that if you’re a fan of short stories, especially ones that have a good mix of fantasy and reality, then you should definitely read this!
Have you read A House is a Body or is it on your TBR?