Book Review: How To Screw Up Like A Pro
‘The original draft was much darker than the current version.’ said the authoress in an interview. It had me wondering how the book would have panned out had the original draft prevailed, for the final product is anything but dark.
An interesting title, a tidy book cover and a particularly appealing blurb at the back. From the outlook, Abirami M. Krishnan’s debut novel How to Screw Up Like a Pro definitely passes on for a must read book. What we then encounter inside holds the book in good stead as it undoubtedly lives up to the reader’s expectations.
The story kicks off with a prologue where we are introduced to the Suresh family who are house hunting in Chennai. Both the parents are doctors and have three children named Arjun, Akola (short for Amritha Komala Lakshmi) and Anjana. Later on, we also get to meet the two grandparents—the father’s mother and the mother’s father.
Arjun, the eldest of the three siblings, soon enough drops off a huge bomb on his folks by declaring he has impregnated Priya, his ex-girlfriend. Arjun is more than willing to marry her but Priya refutes his proposals time and again and is instead keen on delivering the baby on US soil. Arjun is ready to follow suit. While we are dealing with that, the plot simultaneously drifts on to the lives of the other family members with a third person narrative taking us back and forth through the past and present of their dysfunctional living. Akola, having completed her graduation abroad, is now pursuing her doctorate in Genetic Engineering from IIM Chennai and spends most of her time cutting up dead rats in a murky lab room. When she isn’t doing that, she is partying with her friends Mirna and Rekha. Akola is also going through a rather complicated patch as far as her love life is concerned, while on the other hand there is an immensely disturbing and recurring nightmare where-in she visualizes a child sobbing in the dark. Akola’s sister Anjana, the youngest of the lot, is vying to be an actress and has a rather simplified life, save for an awkward event from the past and an ongoing squabble with a top Kollywood actress. We are only a few more pages into the book when another shock is delivered. An age old skeleton tumbles out of the closet. Dr Suresh’s extra marital affair that had very nearly left the family for dead is revealed. While all of this is going on, the two grandparents keep on making notable appearances every now and again and offer some very interesting insights about their own lives as well as that of their children. However, the most interesting character of all is that of the mother. A gynecologist by profession, Akola describes her mother as a miracle uterus-worker, the goddess herself, Dr Parvati. Parvati is very much at the helm of everything. From getting herself involved in cleaning up Arjun’s mess to doing some horrible (read criminal) things to Akola when she was a child to suffering for Dr Suresh’s cheating escapade to bickering with Anjana over her career choices, Parvati is everywhere. By the time all the relevant facts are laid bare it becomes transparent to the reader that this is one, screwed up family. That said, there are moments when the family looks complete…well, at least the siblings appear to be closely knit. Arjun has very nearly sorted out his life with Priya, Anjana is making a mark in the film industry and Akola is striking up friendly chords with Thiru after getting over one particular Dan. So just when things are starting to look bright again, a tragedy strikes and everything is turned upside down. This Suresh family, for whom bonding is an unfamiliar territory, will now have to get their act together. The outcome of this upsetting event will either mend them all for the better, or leave them more distraught than ever.
So one thing that you might have realized here is that there is no precise storyline to the book—the plot is nothing but a coming together of all the family members (ironically) and the events of their lives. However, Krishnan sets up the book wonderfully well in the first few pages itself. The reader quickly realizes what kind of a read this is going to be: a light-hearted take on a South Indian family that screws up in one way or the other. The narrative is free flowing and the ease, with which the authoress glides from one character to the other or from one situation to another, particularly between the past and the present, is commendable. The characterization is adept given that each and every character is sketched out to perfection, so much so that even the minor ones like friends and relatives make a mark through their limited actions or speech. Although this is the story of a family, and at times friends, it is safe to assume that it basically revolves around Akola, the protagonist.
Looking back at the read, I can comfortably say that the book stays true to what it actually is—a light-hearted family drama with a strong undercurrent of sarcastic humor, touching some sensitive subjects like child abuse, sexual harassment and infidelity along the way. Although the book gets a bit too unsmiling towards the end, it never really changes its course of direction. There are two particular highlights in the book—one is the very real portrayal of Parvathi as a working wife and her deplorable struggles with her in laws during a torrid spell of time, and the second is when the ultimate tragedy strikes. Krishnan absolutely nails that part as far as bringing out the emotions and actions of the various characters is concerned. As I said, it gets unsmiling for a while, but then a book that was originally a dark piece will obviously carry some of its natural elements, although some immaculate editing helps tone it down significantly.
As for the downside of the book, I would again bring up the fact that there is no particular storyline to the book. Also, the blurb is a bit misleading; it makes us assume the characters in a slightly different manner. Yes, the parents are bickering, but Dr Suresh is rather in check while it is Parvati who does most of the talking. The grandparents who are apparently struck with old-age eccentricities are in fact a lot cooler than what they may appear on the outside. The blurb also claims that Anjana aspires to be the hottest new star in Kollywood, but instead she just comes across as a witty girl with a strong ambition to establish herself as an actor; stardom isn’t her priority. Also, since Krishnan made the trivial characters so interesting, it would have helped the cause had there been a bit more part for some of them, particularly Jose—the live-in nurse of the grandfather, and Thiru—Akola’s love interest.
Overall, there aren’t any real in-the-face flaws in this debut work of fiction and it is a thoroughly enjoyable read that can be finished at a stretch. A recommended read indeed.
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