Patel, Neel. “If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi: Stories”, Flatiron Books, 2018.
The Complexities of Modern Life
We live in a world where stereotypes have taken on lives of their own or so it seems even though we know that stereotypes are commonly held lies. Neel Patel looks at stereotypes and undermines them in eleven very sharp stories. Almost all of his characters are first-generation Indian Americans that face the coming together of the old world and the new world, the differences of small town and big city, the collisions of traditional beliefs and modern rituals.
Patel looks at Indian-Americans and dares to write about subjects that are often overlooked or laughed at such as “helicopter parents, conflicts between spouses, sibling rivalry, racism, sexual orientation, and identity.”
We feel his deep empathy even when his characters infuriate us. He explores universal themes in unexpected ways and excels at portraying nuanced characters. We see the gap between how characters experience their lives and how they are expected to be seen—and how those gaps can become life-changing fissures.
Neel Patel writes with wisdom and compassion and is fun to read because his characters are human and their stories are simply told. Most important is that he writes about the freedom to be flawed.
We meet “terrible spouses, warring siblings, unapologetic liars, and naive kids, searching for happiness, love, or maybe just sex”? The stories are moving, thoughtful, entertaining, and discomfiting and we get a different look at Indians in America. The characters are both sympathetic and deeply flawed. We have two brothers mixed up in an elaborate web of envy and loathing; a young gay man who becomes involved with an older man whose secret he could never guess; three women who almost throw off what society asks of them and a young couple dealing with community gossip.
All of the characters have to deal with moments of truth and have to make a decision that will have serious ramifications.
It is important to state here that while a majority of the characters are of Indian descent, any reader of any background will be able to identify with these characters and their experiences. When reviewing a collection, I do not usually summarize each story but here I want mention a few of them.
“Just a Friend,” is about a young gay man wants to know the secrets his older, married boyfriend has been hiding—but doesn’t quite expect what he finds out;
“God of Destruction,” which tells of a woman enchanted by the wi-fi repairman.
“Hare Rama, Hare Krishna,” juxtaposes a teenager’s navigating his parents’ marital troubles with his acknowledgment of his own sexuality, and all of the good and bad that comes with that.
“If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi” is about the relationship of two brothers from the teenage years through adulthood.
“World Famous” and “Radha, Krishna,” are connected. They follow a young man and a young woman who were thrown together as children but went their separate ways, and then reconnected in adulthood, only to find that their lives had been deeply scarred.
The character development in all the stories is amazing and the stories were very so different than what I usually expect in short stories. Patel gives us humor, emotion, sexuality, empathy and even surprise at times. We care about and feel for, the characters even those we do not like or understand.
The stories reflect the complexities of modern life and Patel wonderfully captures everyday emotions and there is something to be taken from each of the stories.