In A Life of Adventure and Delight, Sharma delivers eight masterful stories that focus on Indian protagonists at home and abroad and that plunge the reader into the unpredictable workings of the human heart.
I started this short story collection a bit skeptical, since it took me nearly the whole day to finish reading just the first tale because I wasn’t vibing with the characters, premise, or writing. A retired divorcé taking advice from Cosmopolitan to get into his neighbor’s pants, while chronicling their confusing yet utterly ordinary relationship didn’t grip me at all.
“He wondered if he was sadder than he knew.”
I went on with lowered expectations, thinking this would be a similar let down as Junot Diaz’s This Is How You Lose Her, but the minuted I opened up the second story titled “Surrounded by Sleep,” I was blown away from start to finish. What pulled me in particular was Ajay, the eleven-year-old protagonist at the heart of this tale. With his love for books, superhero comics, extreme superstitions and mind-expanding talks with God, it was as if the author knew exactly what to include to win me over. Also, the mother in the story was a sight to behold, especially when she used her devotion to “shame God into fixing” her oldest son.
“Are you going to tell me the story about Uncle Naveen again?” he asked.
“Why shouldn’t I? When I was sick, as a girl, your uncle walked seven times around the temple and asked God to let him fail his exams just as long as I got better.”
“If I failed the math test and told you that story, you’d slap me and ask what one has to do with the other.”
His mother turned to the altar.
“What sort of sons did you give me, God?” she asked. “One you drown, the other is this selfish fool.”
“I will fast today so that God puts some sense in me,” Ajay said, glancing away from the altar and up at his mother. He liked the drama of fasting.
“No, you are a growing boy.” His mother knelt down beside him and said to the altar, “He is stupid, but he has a good heart.”
Another point I unexpectedly came to cherish was Ajay’s character growth and how immense it seemed over the course of this swift tale, so much so that I nearly forgot that he was still eleven by the end of it all. Truly wise beyond his years.
“He was having difficulty talking. He didn’t know why. The only time he could talk easily was when he was with God. The explanation he gave himself for this was that, just as he couldn’t chew when there was too much in his mouth, he couldn’t talk when there were too many thoughts in his head.”
Needless to say, I was spellbound by how captivating “Surrounded by Sleep” was compared to the impression left by the first one. Consequently, my expectations were raised a tenfold for the remaining collection.
So I was then sad to see that the remaining pieces didn’t live up to what I’d so loved in the second story. Reading A Life of Adventure and Delight is probably the longest it has taken for me to complete a collection of short stories. I got stuck for days on end with a tale here and there, and in the end I just had to skip some pieces altogether to get the momentum back. I think my main problem was the fact that there wasn’t one theme or arc being explored, unlike in my favorite “Surrounded by Sleep”. Usually the tales started of in one way, only to end on a completely unrelated note, which of course led to numerous loose threads that left my mind spinning.
But I will say this: All the mothers in Akhil Sharma’s short story collection were a force to be reckoned with. The author can write dynamic mother figures like no one’s business, and I’m frankly jealous. So I was quite dismayed to see that A Life of Adventure and Delight didn’t live up to my overall expectations in the end. But I am eager to see what Sharma’s future works will entail.