One would think the short story is on its way to extinction, what with most short story collections in book stores these days bearing the name of the usual suspects – RK Narayan, Ruskin Bond, Kafka, etal. And then one comes across Only Men Please, and thinks all is not yet lost.
The book is a collection of 35 short stories by male authors of different nationalities. The writers’ diverse cultures makes the book an eclectic mix. Dingbang Wingbang is about a teenaged Chinese worker in an arms factory and his infatuation like any other adolescent while Arima blends fact and fiction in the tale of a Spanish attack on El Dorado.
Some stories deal with wistfulness and yearning. Beyond the Rainbow sensitively portrays a life lived in strife, yet not devoid of hope. In Thottho, a young man learns to cope with loss through the comforting touch of a stranger. Ghosts of Guilt, one of my favourites, deals with the guilt a man feels after the death of his mother.
Other stories depict the dark side of human nature. Our Friendly Neighbourhood shows how an oppressed society might resort to diabolical measures. The Enlistment is disturbingly gruesome; perhaps also a sign of our times of terrorism and militant rebellions. Co-opted delves into the hazy mind of an urban youth caught between a sense of righteousness and his hedonistic pleasures.
Off the mark with its several metaphors is a funny read while Death’s Door has a thrilling take on April Fools Day.
My only grouse was about two stories, The Return of the Talkative Man and First Night. These do not quite match up to the rest of the stories which make up an interesting read.
All in all though, Only Men Please is a good combined effort from the various authors; one that gives new scope to the short fiction format even when contemporary bestseller lists are occupied by full-length novels.