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Book review of Objects of Desire

by Ananya Sarkar
(Kolkatta, India)

Clare Sestanovich
Objects of Desire
ISBN 978-1529053586
Pages 211, Price INR 863

Stories of Discontinuity

Editor of New Yorker, Clare Sestanovich’s short story collection Objects of Desire is a volume populated by characters whose reality is still a story in the making. Embracing ambiguity and irresolution, the author commandingly navigates through the flux of life in contemporary urban America. The prose is disaffected, keeping the reader at arm’s length, which also helps them to perceive things objectively.

The stories here mainly comprise women who are transitioning in some way or the other, either after school, the dissolution of a marriage or narrowly missing a dream job. In ‘By Design’, Suzanne, a successful graphic designer is sued for sexual harassment by a younger male colleague. Consequently, she undergoes a divorce, leaves her business and moves to a new apartment where she likes to keep the space bare. When her son and his fiancé ask her to design their wedding invitations, she sees their anxiety to make her feel useful and resents it. In the title story, the narrator Leonora lives with her activist boyfriend. As she watches his life unravel, there is also news of her ex-boyfriend being elected to
Congress. With the progress of the story, Leonora seems to be unsure of where her loyalties are.

The book does not shy away from reflecting what may be considered as off-track and singular. For
instance, in ‘Security Questions’, Georgia has an affair with a married man whose wife, Debbie is familiar with her and even has her number. This strange open arrangement even goes to the extent of Georgia calling Debbie when she gets locked out of her apartment and her lover’s phone is unavailable. Debbie tells her without any sympathy or emotion that her husband is out with his girlfriend. The objective tone has its own kind of kindness for Georgia. Eventually, the affair fizzles out without any grief, anger or
relief that generally characterize a breakup.
The characters are far from being perfect. In fact, they are all a bit lost, mired in dilemma and indecision but this is what makes them relatable. Discontinuity and angst often wind into the stories, making them perfect fragments of modern life.

Sestanovich’s style of writing is detached with an unfolding of characters and events with poise. Shorn of ornamentation, the prose is minimalistic keeping the narrative thread crisp and clear. However, the narrator in each story appears to be vastly passive and aloof, which makes it difficult to differentiate between them. Imbuing them with more striking differences could have left a stronger impression on the mind.

Overall, the book is a good read with subtle drama that is both intriguing and appealing. As a debut
work, Objects of Desire makes a strong point and leans towards existentialism ever so gently.

Amazon link for the book here.


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