2.5 out of 5 hearts
Aerogrammes: And Other Stories was the April 2013 selection for the Books & Booze book club, which was formed by a friend of mine. She read this book right after it was released, after James's first novel Atlas of Unknowns received a lot of critical acclaim. You can read my discussion overview of our book club meeting for this book here.
This is James's first published collection of short stories. It focuses on the loneliness and its sentiments. She explores the different sides of loneliness - moving to a new country, death of spouse, social estrangement, etc. In The Scriptological Review: A Last Letter from the Editor, Vijay is the editor and founder of a magazine dedicated to reviewing and uncovering the meaning behind unique shapes and pen stokes in handwriting. Most of it is centered around his dead father's handwriting as Vijay struggles to hold on to the last physical connection his has of him - letters and birthday cards. What to Do With Henry is about a woman whose husband had an extramarital affair and fathered a daughter while he was on a business trip in Sierra Leone. She decides to travel to Sierra Leone and adopt the daughter, because it is the "right thing to do", and also buys a chimpanzee. She returns to America and becomes detached from her former life, including friends and family; she focuses on mothering her ex-husbands illegitimate child and Henry, a chimpanzee. Ethnic Ken tells the story of a first-generation girl trying to adapt to American adolescent culture while at school. It discusses her troubles at home and how they compare to what one can perceive as a typical American youth's life. It also addresses how she struggles to make a place for herself among her classmates.
As I began reading this book, it was off to a good start. She uses an abundance of lyricism and metaphorical statements. Basically, her writing is beautiful. However, I had the same issue with this book as I do with Junot Diaz: the same story is told over and over again. While she does address loneliness from by using creative and interesting subplots, it does get a bit repetitive. The protagonist is lonely for one of the following reasons: loss of a loved one, inability to create a relationship with someone, or difficulty belonging in a group/society. This book had a least 7 short stories (if my memory serves correctly), so it the repetition does become more obvious. To top it all off, it is a very depressing read, so I can't say that I enjoyed it. If you are interested in reading this book, I would suggest to read one story, take a break by reading something else, read another story, take a break, and so on.
"I learned certain truths at terrible speeds." - Tania James, Ethnic Ken
Published May 15th 2012 by Knopf (first published April 3rd 2012)
ISBN 0307268918 (ISBN13: 9780307268914)
Edition language: English