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If You See Me, Don't Say Hi: Stories

Review

If You See Me, Don't Say Hi: Stories

Love, longing, angst and xenophobia all mingle in this stylish debut collection by Neel Patel.

If the best rule that a writer can follow is “write about what you know,” Patel has fulfilled that dictum with verve. He is an Indian American who hails from the Midwest --- as do the majority of his characters. They may be gay, straight, male or female, but they are first and foremost products of their old culture and bamboozled by the new one. In the greater freedom that America affords, a man may be unfaithful to his wife publicly, and she may react, as does Samir’s mother in “Hare Rama, Hare Krishna,” by praying more --- and acquiring some sexier clothes. Samir is wrestling with youthful fantasies and may be “Samir the queer” to his American schoolmates, but he may have to resort to uncharacteristic violence to defend himself and his first boyfriend.

"Patel’s collection is not confined to any specific set of scenarios, which is what makes the book so enjoyable.... Patel succeeds admirably with equal measures of humor, pathos, intelligence and sophistication."

In looking at the weird world of male-female-female-male-male liaisons, Patel is examining with great honesty the dilemma many young people, not only newcomers, face in our gender-bent society. Peripherally but certainly not without intent, the author has catalogued the cruelty, arrogance and ignorance of “the whites” his people have to accept and work around as they struggle to make meaningful lives in a foreign ambience. Nowhere is this better depicted than in “Just a Friend,” in which an older man pursues an affair with the young male narrator, in grand style, until it suddenly falls apart and the lavish lover becomes “no one you need to know.” In the title story, two brothers clash when one fails to make the high mark required of immigrant children and the other succeeds, engendering a family feud that never should have happened.

Patel’s collection is not confined to any specific set of scenarios, which is what makes the book so enjoyable. The reader starts each story with no idea where it might lead, only the suspicion that the destination will be quite different from what is initially implied. There are the guilt-tinged recollections of an African Indian caught in a vortex of multiple moral codes (“The Other Language”) and the existential quandary of a young woman seeking a long-term relationship who impulsively has a fling with the cable guy (“God of Destruction”).

Patel has exposed two common strategies for young minorities dealing with the dominant culture --- either getting a foothold and gaining acceptance in it, or rejecting it as it has rejected them. These he weaves into 11 distinct, intricate tapestries, showing the changes that will necessarily accompany either choice. He has set himself the writer’s task of speaking with many voices --- the young teen lusting for American film stars; the gay boy tormented by hateful peers; the young woman desperately maneuvering to get pregnant in an arranged, lukewarm marriage. Patel succeeds admirably with equal measures of humor, pathos, intelligence and sophistication.

Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott on July 27, 2018

If You See Me, Don't Say Hi: Stories
by Neel Patel

  • Publication Date: July 10, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Short Stories
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Flatiron Books
  • ISBN-10: 1250183197
  • ISBN-13: 9781250183194