Insects Are Just Like You And Me Except Some Of Them Have Wings (Chennai:
Blaft Publications Pvt. Ltd., 2008). 142 pp. ISBN 978–8190605632
thirty-five stories in Kuzhali Manickavel’s collection Insects Are Just Like You And Me Except Some Of Them Have Wings
allow the reader to enter into a strange world, like ours but not, in which
characters take in the colors of their surroundings just as vividly as they
catalog the happenings inside their bodies and minds. Manickavel asks the
reader to go on this bizarre and worthwhile journey with her, and the reader
would be advised to go along for the ride.
Mostly flash-length, Manickavel’s stories contain a great
deal of meaning in a small space. The majority of her protagonists are young
females living in India, not quite connecting with others as they try to find
their way in the world. In “Knowing Maurice,” a story that is almost solely
dialogue, two characters try to figure out how they know each other; the piece
ends with the powerful lines, “She began rummaging through her purse and I
looked at the photograph again. I didn’t know who any of them were, not even
the one who was supposed to be me.” Change, both internal and external, is a
theme that weaves through many of Manickavel’s stories, including the standouts
“Monsoon Girls” and “The Queen of Yesterday,” which externalize the emotional
changes that come with growing up.
There is a strange humor in Manickavel’s stories that
comes from the absurdity of being human and all that comes with it; this humor
is often coupled with a deep sadness that lends depth to the prose. The
entomological diagrams that follow after every few stories — such as “Fig. 4. A
Guide to Life in a Small Indian Town Represented by a Lateral View of a Locust
with Wings and Legs Removed” — serve to defamiliarize further the
already-defamiliarized story that has just occurred.
story “A Bottle of Wings and Other Things” presents the reader with the image
of a small bottle filled with dead insects as a representation of the creative
process. A fine symbol of Manickavel’s stories as a whole, the bottle is
something magical and confounding that lingers in the character’s mind even
after it has seemingly lost its significance. In her biography at the end of
the book, Manickavel writes of herself, “Contrary to popular belief, she is not
very much fond of insects.” Nevertheless, insects and other sorts of vermin
appear in almost every story in the collection, serving to both ground the
stories in the most base of realities and to add a sense of otherworldliness.
Entering into Manickavel’s strange reality makes the reader realize the truth
of her title. Insects are indeed just
like us, but through her prose, Manickavel gives her characters wings as well. In
the story “You Have Us All Late And Follow,” Manickavel’s narrator says, “I
have a feeling today will be marked by large and extraordinary things.” Large
in breadth rather than length, Manickavel’s prose is certainly extraordinary.
Molly Lazer is an MFA candidate in Creative Writing at Rosemont College. A former associate editor at Marvel Comics, she currently teaches high school, acts, and directs plays outside of Philadelphia. Her work has appeared in The Pennsylvania Gazette and Caesura.