White Danc­ing Ele­phants

Chaya Bhu­vaneswar

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews Adult Fiction -

Dzanc Books (OC­TO­BER) Soft­cover $16.95 (208pp) 978-1-945814-61-7

Chaya Bhu­vaneswar’s sto­ries are brood­ing, pre­cise, and painful in­dict­ments of pa­tri­ar­chal cul­tures. They pri­mar­ily fol­low women of color through harsh per­sonal and post­colo­nial land­scapes. Char­ac­ters nav­i­gate the ex­pec­ta­tions and de­mands and oth­ers; they also of­ten work, de­spite their best con­scious in­ten­tions, to live in­side sto­ries that they feel are not their own.

A woman in her for­ties drifts through the rain-soaked streets of London, lament­ing the loss of a mis­car­ried child. A wife wres­tles with her frag­ile health and jeal­ousy over her hus­band’s AI break­through. A young boy es­capes into folk­tales, avoid­ing his grief over a lost sis­ter and an abu­sive fa­ther, but see­ing his sis­ter’s face ev­ery­where.

In “The Shaker Chair,” a woman grap­ples with the losses im­plicit in her up­per-crust life and the pains that her suc­cesses cover. In “Or­ange Pop­si­cles,” a im­mi­grant col­lege stu­dent’s dev­as­tat­ing en­counter with a preda­tor drives home the vul­ner­a­bil­ity of women in misog­y­nis­tic sys­tems.

Women are abused and dis­carded in other sto­ries as well, though some­thing es­sen­tial and fe­ro­cious about them per­se­veres. They re­sign them­selves to cold cul­tural lines and tra­di­tions, be­com­ing “suc­cess­ful at sus­tain­able un­hap­pi­ness”: “The whole idea of choice, it’s just a Western myth,” one woman re­flects. Nar­ra­tion styles are at once de­tached and need­ful. Eroti­cism springs up in un­ex­pected cor­ners; else­where, in­no­cence is snuffed out.

Col­orism, ho­mo­pho­bia, and racism to­ward and among women of color are fre­quent, acid themes. The de­tails here are re­al­is­tic and sharp: ob­ser­va­tions of “sausage-cas­ing cleav­age”; of books so fine that “a good wind would blow away the words”; of gilt frames and ex­pen­sive fab­rics and baubles that never sat­isfy. Of vi­cious poi­son that chokes the lungs, and of sto­ried forests that once knew bet­ter times.

Rad­i­cal and sear­ing, the sto­ries of White Danc­ing Ele­phants de­mand and war­rant an at­ten­tive, lis­ten­ing au­di­ence. MICHELLE ANNE SCHINGLER

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