TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN by Priscila Uppal (Doubleday), 360 pages, $29.95 cloth. Rating: NNN
Priscila Uppal likes a challenge. Sometimes it works for her, sometimes it doesn't.
In To Whom It May Concern, she sets up a challenging narrative featuring many complex characters.
Central to the plot is the quadriplegic Hardev Dange, victim of a car accident that occurred while his wife was pregnant with his third child. A developer is closing in on Hardev's property and threatening to foreclose on his house.
His three children all have issues. Birendra ties her tubes just weeks before her wedding - without telling her fiancé. Emile's fallen in love with a male classmate, and Dorothy, who's deaf, likes to invite men at a bar to tell her personal stories.
Poet Uppal's prose is clear, often powerful, and the characters are fascinating, especially Hardev's kleptomaniac home care worker, Rodriguez. Dorothy is wonderful, too - fresh, angry, creative. Her relationship with boy pal Kite, who's also deaf but who chooses a high-tech operation to conquer his disability, has real zing.
And Uppal offers a rare glimpse of life inside a high school for kids with special needs. Guess what? They fuck and do drugs just like lots of other high schoolers.
But in trying to do so much with so many situations, Uppal leaves some important threads dangling. Late in the narrative, Rodriguez appears at Dorothy's fave hangout, with no apparent result, and we're never sure how Birendra's marriage will survive her reproductive fake-out. Then again, the ending seems way too tidy.
And why do Uppal and company keep referring to the novel as a multicultural take on King Lear? The connections (Hardev, known as the Water King, has three children) seem super-tenuous, and suggesting the link only raises expectations.
But like I said, Uppal doesn't mind tripping herself up.
Find out more about the King Lear link when Uppal launches her novel with a panel on Lear at the Gladstone as part of This Is Not Reading Series, Tuesday (January 13). See Readings.
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