Each of Us Killers

Debut collections rarely prove even in quality and efficacy, which makes Jenny Bhatt's 15 compelling stories in Each of Us Killers even more memorable. Peripatetically spread across continents, Bhatt's characters are often caught between expectations, desires and boundaries.

Bhatt opens with a bang--literally. In "Return to India," a man is dead, shot by a stranger's gun. Details of his isolated immigrant life are gradually exposed by his co-workers, his ex-wife and even his killer. Bhatt also employs that cleverly affecting group-reveal in her final story, the titular "Each of Us Killers," in which village men divulge to the reader--but remain guarded with the outsider journalist--the horrific details of a vicious attack and subsequent murder/suicide.

In between, standouts proliferate. In "The God of Wind," especially notable for its brevity at barely two pages, an exhausted rickshaw driver must summon some semblance of divine energy to run "like the God of Wind" when he's confronted with a shocking discovery. In "Mango Season," a shop employee recalls his "exquisite hopes of youth" decades earlier, triggered by the mangos he passes on his way home from work. In "Life Spring," a woman abandons her abusive husband and finds phenomenal success as a baked sweets entrepreneur, propelled by a startling intimate experience. In "Time and Opportunity," an aging food stall owner is trapped by his own thieving family; in "Neeru's New World," the predator doesn't win; in "Journey to a Stepwell," marriage doesn't have to be a woman's life goal.

Challenging assumptions, confronting power, manipulating barriers whenever possible--even at grave personal cost--Bhatt's cast surprises, inspires, frightens,  beguiles, but never disappoints. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

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