Content warning: suicide
Second Disclaimer: I am perhaps unduly harsh on books about the Indian-American experience. They are more likely to exasperate me. Not because I think that every book needs to perfectly express my experience–I loved Never Have I Ever, and my experience could not have been more disparate–but because they seem to barely skim the surface of the wealth of experience that I know the #ownvoices author must have. So they don’t come off as insightful to me, the way that Big Bang Theory‘s “nerd jokes” never made any sense to me, a former academic nerd person who actually went to nerd college. YMMV, I assume this could be a three star book for the average reader, South Asian or not, who doesn’t demand more of their South Asian rep.
The main part of the blurb is three paragraphs. The first is about Neil’s character (our protagonist). The second is all about Anita’s secret, the liquid gold that drives the promised heist plots. The third is half about Neil, and then half about a second-arc heist.
The blurb is lying.
This book is actually another entry in my favoritest subgenre! “An emotionally stunted manchild cannot handle life, even in the slightest, and doesn’t know what his Purpose is: the second gen Indian-American edition, Atlanta/San Francisco variant.”
MY GOD, I just wanted Anita and her mother Anjali to DROP THIS DRIP and let him fail entirely on his own merits. Or maybe just drop him off the edge of a plot hole somewhere so that he’d disappear and we could spend some time with literally any other character, I literally cared about every single character (except maybe the 2D stereotype classmates that filled out Anita’s new private school) more than I cared about Neil “I have decided to go by a Starbucks name my entire life but sneer at my sister’s attempts to answer questions about being bicultural” Narayan.
Yes, I will freely admit again that I might judge Indian-American experience books a bit more critically. In this case, I genuinely believe it’s because if the unexamined life is not worth living, I’m not entirely sure whether it’s worth reading. Does Neil need to, “cheerfully attune [his] inner life with each year,” like he notes his sister has done? Well, no. But methinks that you’re quick to psychoanalyze your sister, burdened with the weight of being the eldest child of immigrant parents, who has come to terms with her identity and made a life for herself, and quick to dismiss one brief dalliance with therapy years ago as not useful. And, like, what is the point of watching along as Neil snorts and drugs his way through a mediocre grad student existence in mid-2010s-Bay Area? That Indian-American second generation kids-now-adults can be just as disaffected as any other group who have shed the moniker of immigrant years after having landed on the hallowed, stolen shores of America?
I dunno. There’s so much promise in this book: the idea of gold/alchemy/ambition, “to whom much is given, much is expected, and also you should try and feel as guilty as you can about all your actions,” the weird protective-yet-smothering effect of growing up in the South Asian bubble within majority white neighborhoods that are now majority immigrant when you go back to visit…but we’re stuck on this protagonist who is afflicted with Great Ennui over everything that he is too lazy to achieve.
Spoiler: [And also, can we definitively say that he’s also a psychopathic little shit for stealing Shruti’s life force while pretending to be into her? I’m not saying he’s like, the only one to blame for her suicide–although he seems to think that, letting him be that important irks me–but he’s definitely no better than Minkus and his clandestine Smith & Wesson 9mm when it comes to carrying out dangerous, harmful actions.]