Few missing pieces in otherwise intriguing book

By Smriti Daniel

One of the more memorable lines in Jigsaw, Deirdre Jonklaas Cadiramen’s third book, comes when a character’s stupefied expression is described as similar to that of a “gecko that just fell from the ceiling and onto the floor.” The line marks the conclusion of the 14th story in a slender volume which features 15 short stories, each of which is testament to Cadiramen’s enviable skill as a writer. You will find her sentences are taut, her background beautifully framed, her flair for the offbeat and the unexpected indisputable. If there is anything that disappoints, it is that the climax of her carefully layered stories are sometimes, anticlimactic, leaving you disappointed in the punch line.

A member of the English Writers Workshop (also known by the moniker of the Wadiya Group) Cadiramen made the 2002 shortlist for the David T.K. Wong Fellowship – an annual prize that bestows 26,000 pounds on a lucky winner. She has also seen her work translated, specifically into Telegu for an anthology of Sri Lanka Women’s Short Fiction. Her first publication ‘Thursday’s Child’ was followed by ‘Kaleidoscope’. But what intrigues me most is a reference in the blurb to a short story based on her Austin A35 – I gather she may have restored it herself. Unfortunately, the story didn’t make this collection.

In ‘Jigsaw’ Cadiramen has created several character-driven short stories, a majority of which end in tragedy. Cadiramen’s sense of humour - dark and irreverent for most part - is turned on otherwise difficult subjects, sparing neither death nor disease, violent crime nor hostile in-laws. Her characters themselves cover the spectrum from young to the old, from conventional to wildly flamboyant. However, Cadiramen is at her most accomplished when fleshing out her female protagonists. In “The Bride Wore Black,” a young Ruth has prophetic dreams, while ‘A Quirk of Fate’ stars the dazzling Swarnamalee, entrepreneur extraordinary, proponent of extramarital sex, and of late, a woman with a number of inconveniently broken bones. Elsewhere, Carol, plagued by a mysterious illness, chooses to spend her life surrounded by exotic birds, while Vimala the prostitute unexpectedly becomes Yamuna the widow’s only hope.

Having turned the last page, it is likely that while readers may find that many of the individual elements of Cadiramen’s jigsaw delight, one could be forgiven for wondering if a few pieces got lost in the packing.

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