In this collection of short stories it is the short anecdote that leaves an impression — a little jolt of satire. The narrator pretending to be an intern at Vogue wittily reports that Anna Wintour has had a skylight installed above her office so that she can wear sunglasses all the time. We know this is a fabrication but it is the stuff of urban myth; shared as gossip and liable to spread notwithstanding our unreliable narrator. Rahul Mehta our author has in one of the stories a set piece that warns in postmodern fashion that the author and the narrator are not the same person and that this distinction is all the more evident when the narrator reports being a writer.
The earlier stories in the collection read like realist tales told of course in the first person. The first is about a tense relation between grandson and grandfather, an incident with an outburst, and the traditional marks of respect.
When I go downstairs, my father asks if I did pranaam, and I say yes.
We readers know this to be a lie. Just prior to the question and response we are given a description from the perspective of the I-narrator.
Now, I don’t approach my grandfather. I don’t know whether he is crying under the covers. I stand in the doorway another minute, watching him, and then I leave.
Pranaam involves touching the feet of the person. There is no feet touching. Is there another form of pranaam? Is there some kind of respect? It is a question that haunts the whole collection: who and what is worth respect if the narrator cannot respect himself? An answer comes in the last story where the narrator decides to address his parents in a moment of truth telling but the moment is off-stage so to speak. It is announced but not related. It is yet to come. So we have in one story a lie to a father, in the other an opening up to the parents. These are of course different narrators and different stories. However, it is a persistent theme — respect tied to communication — one of the middle stories reports on this move by one member of a couple having a tough time:
Taped to the fridge is a note: “You’ll probably be asleep by the time I get home,” it says. “We should talk soon.”
And like many of the other stories in Quarantine the outcome is left in suspension. Pranaam for the reader is left incomplete. Readers are constructed as untouchable or quarantined. Uncontaminated by the fictions of truth.
And so for day 1060