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Flash Review: Insects Are Just Like You And Me Except Some Of Them Have Wings

Kuzhali Man­ick­av­el,
Insects Are Just Like You And Me Except Some Of Them Have Wings
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.

Lazer.jpgMol­ly 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.

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