Short Stories Books

Goosebumps for the weekend: ‘Strange: Stories’ by Shreya Sen-Handley

Tales about normal people whose lives take abnormal turns

A man who steals office stationery for a dark reason; a retirement home for domestic workers of a strange kind; a Delhi couch-surfer girl who experiences a horrible night — these are some of the tales that make up Shreya Sen Handley’s Strange Stories.

The collection of 13 stories covers a wide spectrum — horror, romance, trauma, mental health — but is essentially about ordinary people whose lives take unexpected turns.

If you are a 90s’ kid, the cover of Strange Stories will immediately transport you to that moment when you unwittingly picked up an R.L Stine book. The book might look like the latest edition of Goosebumps on the outside, but the writing inside is vastly different and matured.

Take the story, ‘Long in the Blue Tooth’, for instance. Domestic workers in Gurugram have been inducted into a retirement home. They are ogled at by visitors who cannot be turned away. There’s a border that both parties mustn’t cross.

Is it a retirement house or an enclosure? Who are these domestic workers? The author plants clues through the story but keeps you guessing until the very end when the truth is revealed.

The book also touches upon the frail threads that hold together a marriage. Saira in ‘The Lust List’ has just been told by her college-sweetheart-turned husband that they should see other people and “enjoy what life has to offer before we are too old”. Saira, left wondering about the life she lived, embarks on a reluctant night at the bar.

The most engaging story, however, is ‘The Bone of Contention’, which reads almost like a good old whodunnit, but told from the point of view of a dog.

Sarge’s main aim in life is — no prizes for guessing — collecting bones, but what happens when his escapades and excavations lead to a well-guarded family secret?

The author tries to infuse a different cultural milieu in each tale: from a languid villa life in Corfu to the insides of a loud pujo pandal in England.

There is enough and more attention paid to the setting, which can make the reader (who is here to read a ‘short story’) weary by the end.

Strange Stories is the perfect weekend read, but none of the characters stay with you once you put the book down.

preethi.r@thehindu.co.in

Strange: Stories; Shreya Sen-Handley, Harper India, ₹350

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Printable version | Feb 21, 2020 6:20:42 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/goosebumps-for-the-weekend-strange-stories-by-shreya-sen-handley/article29852523.ece

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