Thankfully, ‘sophomore slump’ is not part of Tania James‘ vocabulary. In fact, her second book is even better than her 2009 debut novel Atlas of Unknowns. And as rare as consistency can be in collections, James manages to sustain an unwavering level of resonating quality throughout each of the nine stories in Aerogrammes: each story is a world unto itself, standing fully formed with little lacking.
“What to Do with Henry,” the collection’s second story, stands out as a personal favorite; it was such a surprise of lingering poignancy that I’m actually loathe to tell you much about it – readers deserve to discover it without any intervention. Suffice it to say, “Henry” is a strikingly haunting tale of an unconventional family’s disconnect in the midst of our overconnected, global world.
Indeed, that sense of disconnect emanates from all nine stories, as characters criss-cross the globe from England to India to Sierra Leone to cities across the U.S.: a pair of Indian wrestler brothers seeks glory in London in “Lion and Panther in London,” a young girl tries to understand her estranged father who has returned to the family from Dubai in “The Gulf,” two elderly residents with vastly different backgrounds try to ease the isolation of their lives with each other in the titular “Aerogrammes,” a single, middle-aged dance teacher makes a desperate hypocrite of herself in “Light and Luminous,” and a struggling young writer tries to come to terms with his older brother’s devastating new paralysis.
I admit that Aerogrammes took a couple of months to read … albeit with good reason. With less than 200 pages, the slim volume moves far too quickly, which means a patient, well-paced savoring of story by story might be the best mode for lasting appreciation.