“A Life of Adventure and Delight” 
by Akhil Sharma
Originally published in the May 16, 2016 issue of The New Yorker.
Click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker website.

cover_160516_400I quite enjoyed the last two pieces we got from Akhil Sharma: “We Didn’t Like Him” (here) and “A Mistake” (here). I believe both of those were excerpts from Sharma’s Family Life, which won the shortlived Folio Prize in March 2015, and which Lee reviewed here. Family Life was a kind of fictional autobiography, tracing events of Sharma’s own life with a bit of a twist. “A Life of Adventure and Delight” doesn’t appear to be in that vein, if I’m reading Sharma’s interview with Deborah Treisman correctly (you can get that here). Should be interesting to see, then, how this story will go.

Please let us know how you felt about the story or Sharma’s work in general below!

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By |2016-05-09T11:53:19+00:00May 9th, 2016|Categories: Akhil Sharma, New Yorker Fiction|9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. avataram May 10, 2016 at 11:10 am

    Another poorly written story by Akhil Sharma, with a series of unsympathetic characters. It is a mystery why the New Yorker keeps publishing him.

    I contrast this story with Lara Vapnyar’s “Waiting for a Miracle” – a joyous story about an immigrant in NY. Small town India is this terrible only in Sharma’s imagination, where people are still buying photographs of Satis (an outdated Hindu custom where a widow immolates herself on her husband’s funeral pyre, banned by the British in 1829). Half of India is on Tinder now, but Sharma will have us believe that everyone is miserable, the men are into adult services on backpage, two Ph.d students at what looks like NYU are sexual novices, and they are calling home on Skype and still being judged by everyone there including an uncle in politics.

    Parts of it are funny, though, like the Indian habit of paying nothing for anything from hookers to dinner. But such a disconnected story – what does the arrest on the first page have to do with the rest of the story? Is this another extract from a novel?

    The overall sense of gloom is overwhelming, and one wonders why such stories are written and published eagerly by the New Yorker.

  2. Trevor Berrett May 10, 2016 at 11:28 am

    I didn’t mind this one, avataram, though I liked Sharma’s work in the past as well. Not my favorite, by any stretch, but decent.

    When I started, though, I was pretty wary. Here we have what looked to be another immigrant-out-of-water story with Gautama trying to work out how to live in NYC, away from family and with his own temptations. I was really nervous when I read this:

    Having told somebody about his sister made the world feel bigger, as if there were more space around him.

    I was in a nitpicky mood, I guess, but any nuance between “making the world bigger” and “more space around him” felt outweighed by the redundancy.

    But for the most part I enjoyed where this story went. Rather than being about the surface-level troubles of an immigrant, it was about a more general sense of shame. Here we have a young man who is hooked on porn and prostitutes but who, when he finally meets Nirmala with whom he wants a real relationship, he resorts to YouTube to figure out how to kiss . . . and finds French kissing to be disrespectful and vulgar. There was, then, this interesting play between his private shame, that he never shares with anyone, and his desire for something pure and innocent. All of this complicated by his parents and his culture. I got the sense they’d be okay knowing their son was hooked on porn and hired prostitutes, but to fall in love?!

    The story won me over and did a good job for the week, though I don’t think it’s one I’ll care too much about in time.

    Also, I don’t think this is an excerpt from any forthcoming novel. The “Contributors” section of The New Yorker says he is currently working on a collection stories, to be called Cosmopolitan, which sounds like it could encapsulate “A Life of Adventure and Delight.”

  3. avataram May 10, 2016 at 11:51 am

    Thank you. I read the Treisman interview after reading the story. Sharma thinks we may judge the characters, but I guess I was more eager to judge him, the author, than his characters!

    Cosmopolitan was published in The Atlantic in 1997 and was included in the Best American Short Stories 1998. A funnier and lighter story, probably one of Sharma’s better ones. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1997/01/cosmopolitan/376761/

  4. Mikw May 14, 2016 at 11:54 am

    Loved this story! In our twenties we men are into a woman’s world of delight and adventure. Women try to pull us into their orbit of commitment and settling down. How to avoid this trap? Some of us do not, and we settle for our first candy when there is so much more chocolate out there. No wonder our married politicians go crazy with lust the first time they travel to Argentina or Brazil. All those beautiful bodies and bouncy breasts…

  5. Greg May 21, 2016 at 12:56 am

    I really like Mikw how you linked the title to one of the themes of the story.

    Thank you for having emphasized to me that the author was conveying we better be careful to ask ourselves what we truly want from women.

  6. Zhe May 24, 2016 at 4:02 am

    It is strange to me that I feel related to this story although I am a Chinese student. I cannot tell whether the language is good or the characters are rich, but there is a thing deep in my mind echoing this story. Let’s say this thing is about a conflict between shame, obsolete family value, and longing for freedom and pleasure in life.
    I feel It is a struggle of a well educated student from a middle class family in India (or China?). My family and I sacrifice a lot for better education. I am tall and handsome (if I may say so), but I didn’t have a girlfriend until I was 24, which is ridiculously normal. After coming to US, I wanted a traditional family so I only looked for Chinese girls. I struggled between having a family and enjoying a relationship. Sometimes I left girls right before we are going to sleep together because I can’t get hard while thinking of those family values and social traditions.
    I got some attentions from girls outside of Chinese community. More than once I wondered what it would be like to date a non Chinese girl. But the burden from my fking family value and our long tradition cannot make me breathe.
    I wish I could be like some rich Chinese kids or stupid brainwashed girls who don’t give a shit to those Chinese stuff. I just can’t. I have to say my family educated me well. Fk !
    I stopped dating for a while and watched porn everyday to get rid of those family values in hope that one day I could really enjoy sex and love.
    I am still working on this now. Sigh…

  7. Greg May 25, 2016 at 6:35 am

    I appreciate your sharing Zhe of a very personal dilemma you are currently working through. This goes to show that literature can directly touch on our lives and help us sort things out. I hope you eventually obtain the freedom and pleasure you are seeking.

  8. Roger May 26, 2016 at 10:08 pm

    I found this interesting and well-paced as I read along from sentence to sentence and paragraph to paragraph. But, after reaching the flat, disappointing ending, the story struck me as a mixture of lazy plotting and lazy characterization, devoid of drama. The piece is static. Gautama is pathetic at the beginning and remains pathetic throughout and up to the end. He has a pulse throughout the story in small, scene-by-scene ways, feeling shame and anxiety, having hopes and, of course, weaknesses – but there is no dramatic arc, and his pulse quickens only in response to trivial events. It’s like a character sketch of a character who turns out to be hollow. Why bother writing about him?

    In the interview, Sharma says that Gautama is “bananas,” an explanation that seemed insufficient and not even convincing. “Bananas” suggests a crazy guy with lots of life and energy, not a sad, depressed, undeveloped man whose claim of “delight” at the end wasn’t believable.

  9. mehbe June 13, 2016 at 5:17 am

    To me, the main character was so strangely childlike in his relationship to the world that I kept hoping some kind of clarifying reason for it would turn up. But, it didn’t, with the result that the story never quite made sense to me. I wondered if the author was trying to perpetrate some kind of satirical stereotype about a certain kind of Indian in the US, but that never quite came into focus, either.

    In the interview, the author said something about a discrepancy between the description of the main character’s home town in India, and its actual size, which was supposed to let the reader know something about the story. Does he expect readers all over the world to have the information about the size of that city in their back pockets, ready to bring to bear on his story as they are reading it? Am I supposed to feel stupid and geographically uninformed for not knowing how big the city is? Or what?

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