I’ve just begun to delve into Sachdeva’s debut collection of short stories, and, for some reason, decided not to read them linearly. I have no idea why I made this decision—I can say, confidently, that I have never read a book of short stories or essays any way other than start to finish, and while I’m sure I’ve read poetry collections this way in the past, it’s a rarity. After reading a third of the collection, however, it seems an utterly fitting approach to a book whose stories largely traffic in questions of fate, and of compulsion or experience that happens beyond the limits of habit, or of the body itself.
I began with “Pleiades”, a story about seven sisters—septuplets—who are born through the vision of their geneticist parents, only to perish, one by one, before they reach adulthood. The story centers on the last living sister, Del, and her attempt to outrun her death—or at the very least, to stop waiting for it—by driving to California. She picks up Troy, a hitchhiker, who has a difficult time getting past the outward appearance of Del’s illness, but who ultimately considers his own fate as the person who accompanies her on her last trip. This story, told in alternating points of view between Del and Troy, was deeply affective, especially in the moments when the two characters have physical contact—their bodies serving as conduits between this world and the next. Troy recalls, sharing a hotel bed with Del, “The hours of the night stretch and blend….I want to chase the darkness out from under her eyes, breathe life back into her, fill her up with mud if that’s what’ll make it work.” Later, Del presses Troy’s hand against her bruised chest:
“I can almost imagine a life all my own….But ghosts with my face surround me, six other hearts echo my heartbeat. There is nothing I can give him because nothing I have is mine.”
Another story from the collection, “Logging Lake” finds its central character, Robert, at a crossroads between his past self (Old Bob, whose longterm girlfriend Linda left him for being too complacent,) and his current incarnation (New Robert, whose new motto is “Say Yes to Everyting.”) Robert meets the audacious Terri on a dating site, and vows to himself to venture out of his comfort zone, even going so far as to agree, after one date, to an impromptu trip from Seattle to Montana to hike in Glacier National Park. As night falls on the trail, Robert and Terri need to find a closer campsite than originally planned, and, at Terri’s urging, break the rules to stay in a “closed” site. As Robert grows increasingly uncomfortable with decisions he’s making with Terri, he continues to reflect on his depression over his breakup with Linda, and vows to dismiss his instincts in favor of the unfamiliar. When Robert wakes in the morning and Terri is gone, the wilderness shifts from the story’s backdrop to a symbol of Robert’s interiority.
What is most impressive about these stories is their economy—in just a few pages, Sachdeva somehow creates stories that make the reader feel as though they’ve experienced whole swaths of the characters’ lives. This is especially notable given that the stories often traverse the natural/real into otherworldly possibility. While sometimes dreamlike, the stories’ protagonists are always grounded by rich and detailed emotional lives.