Readable, but nothing that makes any exceptional impact

The Curse of the Bird & Other Paranormal Stories
Edited by Annie Chandy Mathew & Mary Mathew
Unisun, 2009,
pp 276, Rs 300

This is a book for those who are attracted by the unexplainable. Ghosts, premonitions, voices in the head, haunted houses, re-incarnations, black magic — you find the whole gamut of the paranormal in the 31 stories of various writers that make up this book. Some of them are spine-chilling, in-your-face horror stories that the faint-hearted would do well to leave alone, while others are subtle, and gently lead one to a world that exists beyond the grasp of our physical senses.

It would be beyond the scope of this review to dissect each of the stories in the book. However, some which stand out for their brilliance or originality need mentioning. For example, Geralyn Pinto’s No Talking after Lights Out and Nandini Hate-mane’s In the Library have an engaging twist at the end of the tale while David Vasnaik’s The Gallant Cavalryman is a ghost story with a historical touch. In his The Reincarnation, Vasnaik uses a crow as a sign of destruction to good effect and the dead Englishman who befriends a young girl in Henesy’s Yannai evokes great sympathy. Jaya Madhavan’s The Other Brother is a touching story of how a mother comes to terms with her young son’s death and meets, and reconciles with the spirit of a baby she had aborted. Eva Bell’s The House on Lobo Lane, though engaging, is more murder mystery than ghost story and may have fit better in the short story collection that Unisun also brought out at the same time.

Geralyn Pinto’s Chompakali with the old-world charm of a grandmother’s tale, and a couple of other stories like Roy Thomas’s Wherever You Are and Mathew P Joseph’s One Day in Copenhagen also stand out in the collection.
While most of the stories in the collection will give you the kind of kick a reader of horror stories looks for, a few in the collection are so grotesque — seemingly written only to create horror in the minds of readers — that they evoke revulsion. Steer clear off them, if you’re the fragile kind.
 After the horror series, this collection of short stories from Unisun comes as a bit of a disappointment. Its overall quality leaves much to be desired. True, there are some really interesting tales, but quite a few of them can be safely put away without reading. Of the 36 stories — there are happy ones, tragic ones, and simply incomprehensible ones — only a few will stay with you after they have been read. Some of them read like film scripts and could even make a good visual impact on celluloid, but as reading material they disappoint. 

The Shrinking Woman & Other Stories
Edited by Meenakshi Varma & Annie Chandy Mathew
Unisun, 2009,
pp 292, Rs 300

Here are some of the better ones that need to be mentioned: Sheila Kumar’s Yemberzal stands out as a story that delights in its telling rather than running to a conclusion. Ashwini Gowariker deftly paints a touching picture of the position of women in society by portraying a woman who can shrink herself to accommodate other people’s whims and desires in The Shrinking Woman. Roy Thomas’ Life’s a Lottery is a hilarious story of a con man going about his business. It’s sure to grab the reader’s attention and keep it throughout. David Vasnaik’s Suitcase of Dreams also keeps you involved for the entire length of the story and has an interesting twist at the end of the tale. Through Suma’s sad story in Down the Creek, Mary Abraham shows male chauvinism at its worst and the consequences thereof. Jose Lourenco’s Zemanuel and Malathi Ramachandran’s The Match are two stories that will touch your hearts.

There are a few more readable stories apart from those mentioned above which have not been listed for sheer lack of space. At least half the stories in the collection, even when they’re not boring, clearly lack in depth and therefore fail to make any exceptional impact.

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