Damage is a collection of 16 fiction short stories that take place in Indian Societies, both in India and elsewhere. The overarching theme of this book is how those who cause harm to others have grown up damaged. Dark tones progress along the book, from extramarital affairs and gun violence to rape.
The book delivers what it promises. The reader is shown realistic and believable sections of Indian society as Manco writes parts of dialogues in native language[s] to make the characters as authentic as possible. While doing so, the author also embellishes the prose with rich vocabulary and fascinating images. However, stringing pretty words is not sufficient in storytelling.
I enjoyed most plots, yet they felt artificially construed. The characters did not go through sufficient development within the stores, and I felt that these characters were created to show us a story that Manco wants us to see. It was only until the last few stories that I truly enjoyed reading. My favourite was the 11th, “Palindrome”, which started, continued and ended poetically. I’d have loved the whole book to contain a similar structure in which the main premise doesn’t drown the flow of the story — especially in the cases when the story’s rushed with time jumps at every other paragraph.
Along with the previous point, the characters lacked depth. The author provides us with a description of physical appearances but fails to create personalities that would stick with the readers. Moreover, the physical descriptions of each character were freakishly objectified and sexualised. Arguably, most stories involved love affairs and sexual intimacy; but this objectification at times is described by those characters who would be children when they ‘observe’ such things.
One of my other issues with this book is its strong suit: the eloquent writing. Undoubtedly, Poornima Manco is skilful, using a varied repertoire of vocabulary. This is an unfortunate choice when this voice doesn’t suit the narrative. I found it off-putting, distancing me from the main character. Moreover, adverbs and adjectives weakened various paragraphs. In addition, I noticed a few breaks in point-of-view, but an average reader might turn a blind-eye to these.
Overall, Damage is a collection of okay stories and a few hidden gems. Although the themes are gruesome, the realism in each story comes across easily. If you can get past these few pet peeves of mine, I’m confident you’d enjoy the writing. I also think this collection would be particularly interesting to the Indian community as the subtle social criticism may be quite striking.
I received a free Review Copy from Reedsy in exchange for an honest review.