Fat Books & Thin Women

Story Sunday: Kalpana Narayanan’s “Aviator on the Prowl”

Story Sundays is a weekly feature at Fat Books & Thin Women. Always short stories, always ones available online for free.

Kalpana Narayanan’s “Aviator on the Prowl”, the most recent winner of Boston Review‘s Aura Estrada Fiction Contest (Aura Estrada being the subject of Francisco Goldman’s novelish memoir [or memoirish novel], Say Her Name), reveals itself slowly, almost as though the narrator is letting slip details by accident. At open she writes, “That summer I broke it up and down and got a job because I was tired of thinking.” It’s that job, a hellish restaurant gig that sees her being constantly berated by her overweight, twenty-something boss, that gives Narayanan’s narrator some way of defining herself other than the way she doesn’t want to touch, that of the older sister of a boy who hung himself with his karate belt.

The narrator may not want to reveal herself, or her family, in this story, but what she does let go manages to be at once funny and tragic, a family unable to face its tragedy but simultaneously unable to look away. The girl at center – or maybe it’s not really her at the center, it’s her brother – is motionless for the story, but she has plans:

I’d worked three months and didn’t mind it; it was good to be out of the house, and who knew when I’d be back at school. I’d come home only twice in the year after we cremated my brother. Now when I mentioned going back in two weeks my mother stormed off and flopped around her bed. My father tilted his head like a pup then talked about something else.

In this act of seeing the world around her, or of trying to, Narayanan gives us some beautiful descriptions, as when the narrator takes the bus home after work:

I took the bus the ten blocks home because the ground and sky were hot and I liked to watch people ripple over the tar like slow, pole-thin mirages of themselves.

It’s the last couple paragraphs of this story that are absolutely devastating. Narayanan approaches a subject that risks leaving the reader feeling manipulated, but writes it in a way that seems honest and clear rather than a blatant effort to tug at the heart strings. It’s an extraordinary story, the sort that makes you wonder: where are the other stories by this author? why does her bio mention her MFA and nothing else? why isn’t she an active social networker, informing us of her writing progress at every step? For now, though, “Aviator on the Prowl” is a pretty good story to read while we wait for more.

Read “Aviator on the Prowl” online


Be sure to check out the Story Sunday post from Shivanee at Novel Niche as well. If you’d like to join in and begin posting your own Story Sunday feature, contact me for more info!


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[…] This Sunday, Ellen, the creator of the Story Sundays feature, shares her thoughts on ‘Aviator on the Prowl’ by Kalpana Narayanan. You can read her post at her blog, Fat Books and Thin Women, here. […]

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If I remember correctly, BR said this was Narayanan’s first time being published. Not a bad way to start, but it is strange that there hasn’t been anything since then. I hadn’t really thought about it until now.

As for the bio thing, people are funny about bios. Maybe it was a personal choice to include so little, or maybe an editor just needed to find something to put at the end and picked a detail nobody would find overly personal and not his/her place to share.

Comment by ohemgillie

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Comment by Alexander

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