A New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice and an NPR Best Book of the Year
In eleven sharp, surprising stories, Neel Patel gives voice to our most deeply held stereotypes and then slowly undermines them. His characters, almost all of who are first-generation Indian Americans, subvert our expectations that they will sit quietly by. We meet two brothers caught in an elaborate web of envy and loathing; a young gay man who becomes involved with an older man whose secret he could never guess; three women who almost gleefully throw off the pleasant agreeability society asks of them; and, in the final pair of linked stories, a young couple struggling against the devastating force of community gossip.
If You See Me, Don't Say Hi examines the collisions of old world and new world, small town and big city, traditional beliefs (like arranged marriage) and modern rituals (like Facebook stalking). Ranging across the country, Patel’s stories -- empathetic, provocative, twisting, and wryly funny -- introduce a bold new literary voice, one that feels more timely than ever.
The 11 seemingly casual and quietly feverish stories in Patel's debut follow the plight of young first- or second-generation Indian-Americans. Some characters are gay and some straight, but most of them have grown up in suburban Midwest towns where they are viewed as vaguely exotic as, in an effort to find love, they struggle to please or break away from their families. Expected to become doctors or lawyers, they often rebel in sneaky or ineffective ways. In the wrenching "Just a Friend," 22-year-old bartender Jonathan falls for, and completely fails to understand, the much older, anxious immigrant Ashwin, who wears expensive clothes and conceals or lies about most of the details of his life. In the title story, the narrator and his older brother, Deepak, move from a close friendship to a state of war over the decades, as Deepak flunks out of a "marginally rated college," joining his disappointed parents in running the motel they own, while the narrator goes to medical school. "World Famous" is told from the point of view of a member of an ill-fated couple: Ankur, a medical student from a wealthy family, is attracted to his former high school classmate Anjali, whose family is upwardly aspiring, but their relationship is doomed because of their class discrepancy. Patel has a knack for depicting the gap between how characters experience their lives and how they are expected to be seen and how those gaps can widen into life-changing fractures. This is a perceptive, moving collection.