June 3, 2013

"We Didn't Like Him"

By Akhil Sharma
~5100 words

A man has an uneasy relationship with his father's sister's husband's sister's son.

The narrator doesn't like Manshu from the time they are children because he behaves like a bully. But the narrator's parents are of a generation of Indians that requires a certain deference toward even distant relatives, and thus, "[w]hen Manshu visited, my mother made him sherbet and presented it to him on a tray, the way she would have served it to an adult toward whom the family had to show respect." This ambivalence comes to define the narrator's relationship to Manshu as they grow up together, from the latter's appointment as pandit in the neighborhood temple to his marriage to a non-Brahman girl to the latter's death, when the narrator feels obligated to help with the funeral arrangements.

An interesting feature of this story is that the first-person narrator is not the main character (and doesn't even have a name). That honor goes to Manshu, who is intriguing but, as the title implies, not very likable in the end. What does one do with an unlikable main character? One solution is to show him to the reader through the eyes of someone who gives us permission not to like him. Hence the unnamed, non-protagonist narrator, who describes Manshu as "pathologically selfish." The problem, however, is that because we never get to know the narrator well enough to appreciate him in his own right, we can never totally identify with his opinions about Manshu.

The story's language is passable, though at times it veers a bit too much toward telling rather than showing (the "pathologically selfish" remark being a prime example).

"We Didn't Like Him" has several weak points, but it is ultimately redeemed by the fact that the main character, while not likable, is fairly interesting (an instructive contrast to the main character of "Art Appreciation," who is neither).


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