So there are some books where you finish them and you’re all “Well, I guess that wasn’t for me” such as, in my most recent experience prior to this, Marlon James’ A Brief History Of Seven Killings (and have you heard, he’s coming out with a fantasy novel! Despite my tepid response to prior book, I am excite! I only hope it isn’t the literature version of the upcoming Spawn movie, which we were promised would be, unbelievably, devoid of joy, as if that were a selling point. But I digress.) The weird thing is that lots of parts of Indra Das’ The Devourers did feel like it was for me. I’m totally there for tales of everyday lonely people getting sucked into bizarre realms that parallel our own. I abso-fucking-lutely love contemporary novels set in Asia. Weird family sagas, queer characters, sign me up!
But it’s just so unrelentingly violent and I get it, that’s how the shapeshifters are, but by the time the stranger confronts each parent in turn, I was just exhausted and numb and pretty much uncaring. Idk if each confrontation was meant to shock me out of said numbness, but they didn’t and I was just meh about it all. Logically speaking, given the personalities of all involved, everything had to happen the way it did, but it was all unsurprisingly, monotonously brutal, and I just didn’t care at that point.
Also? I felt that that last sentence of an ending was simultaneously twee and cynical. I loved the prior paragraphs with their sentence hurricanes tangling the various storylines together, but the last sentence felt like such an enormous cop-out given that Alok, with his obsession with names and labels, doesn’t claim his true self by saying it outright. Perhaps that’s the point, that labels don’t matter as long as there’s love, but let me tell you, if the book had ended in the stereotypically heteronormative fashion it had been hinting at earlier in the proceedings, I would have been infuriated. Claiming your identity matters. For a book about admitting who you are and being proud of it, it was a huge disappointment that it didn’t make Alok do the same. And, you know, I’m not one of those people who think that people should out themselves before they’re comfortable, but this is a fictional character in a book who’s just led you on a journey through his psyche and who ends the narrative with words that literally mean nothing instead of words that could mean something. As a coeur de cri from an author, as an essay, as a message from a real person to a real audience, it would be fine (see: outing yourself when you feel comfortable because the real world has real problems) but coming from a fictional character? Cheap.
Much as with Mr James, I’m looking forward to more of Mr Das’ work in future, even if I was tepid, at best, about their breakthrough novels. Hope springs eternal, especially when there’s evidence for the fertile soil of their imaginations and, honestly, technical prowess. I just hope for less dreariness and, in Mr Das’ case, more courage.