Book Review: Equinox by Madhuri Maitra
When Indus Publishers announces a short story competition, it affects the lives of the ensemble cast in unexpected ways. A jaded journalist, a bored housewife, a starry-eyed ambitious girl, an army colonel, an impoverished divorcee – all enter the competition for pressing reasons of their own. They emerge with only slightly deeper pockets than they had but far richer in experience.
My favorite quote: “Man is kind, mankind is cruel.”
Equinox – when day and night are of equal length. Title and the cover are apt for the book. Human existence is a perpetual hunt for an ‘equinox’ balancing joys and sorrows of each human life. This story portrays just that.
When Indus publishers announce a short story competition, an assortment of people from various walks of life and from various Indian states, write in their stories. As the blurb above suggests all the characters want to win the competition for reasons known only to them. How their lives influence the stories they choose to write forms one part of the story, while the other is the stories the characters write. The contestants hail from Kerala to Goa and the states in between. The nuances and the subtle differences that exist among the people of India are brought out well, which renders depth to both characters and the read. Who wins, who loses becomes redundant when each of the characters emerge rich in experience with the occurrence.
What worked for me: I loved the fact that the book is packed with creativity – love letters, Wattsapp messages and of course flash fiction intertwined with the main story. These details add to the overall readability and enhance the sumptuousness of the read. The language is simple yet adequate and the flow is remarkably seamless. Different fonts, sizes and italics were used well to create the difference between fictional stories and the real life stories of the characters.
Phrases and sentences such as ‘…spoke of desultory domestic events,’ or ‘…postprandial stroll in the compound,’ or ‘Soon, it was used as a landmark to give directions, ‘the house of the Russian girl’s murder’ then the shortened and more poetic version – ‘haunted homestay’ are brilliant. There are many others that are sure to awe the readers. I even had a chuckle or two while reading. For example, ‘The way he said the two l sounds, like he folded his tongue twice around the word, made it sound really foldable’ is very good.
My favorite flash stories were Kayuru and Sepoy Govind. They were hard hitting, emotionally gripping and haunting. The other stories didn’t resonate with me. However, I loved how even an unimportant character like Natasha was given a proper denouement.
How can a slice-of-life portrayal be complete without laying out the social fabric of India bare? This is done meticulously and here some of my favorite parts –
“To fall in love amidst the grime and heat of Mumbai and its depressing little spaces called for jubilation.”
“Shoe polish or something they put on their roomal and smell, madam. …They don’t feel hungry. Monica felt a jolt.”
“It was about khap justice, I think. What if the khap makes a compassionate decision, delivers a compassionate verdict, in favor of the woman? That would be lovely and different, and perhaps truly fiction. She smiled at the impossible.”
What didn’t work for me: I’d like to read deep points-of-view driven characters when plot is not the strongest aspect of a story. Equinox reads more as a slices-of-life rather than a story. Throughout the book it had a feel of been-there-seen-that. I didn’t get anything new from the characters or their stories. Everything breathed familiarity and it irked me as my learning curve was at zero from start to finish. There was nothing for me to take away from the story and that IMHO is the weakest point for the book. Of course I can’t deny I learnt a thing or two about how to write well, for sure.
I read the first 30 pages and had to stop, re-read to remember the names and characters to go further as the characters weren’t rooted in my mind. Also, when I finished reading I had one question in my mind – “And what?” to which the story didn’t provide an answer.
Page 89: ‘…not every good,’ should be ‘not very good’
Page 146: ‘…handed to over to him.’ Change to ‘…handed it over to him.’
Page 174: ‘…pressed again this neck,’ should be ‘…pressed against his neck.’
Conclusion: This book is an unadulterated reality check for all Indians. The beauty is that it does not sound one bit preachy. A must read for every aspiring writer to learn the art of packing a book with creativity, that too effortlessly. The book sums up writing in three words – ‘Etch, Elaborate, Embellish.’ Go figure!