If you see me, don't say hi

Neel Patel

Book - 2018

In eleven sharp, surprising stories, Neel Patel gives voice to our most deeply held stereotypes and then slowly undermines them. His characters, almost all of who are first-generation Indian Americans, subvert our expectations that they will sit quietly by. We meet two brothers caught in an elaborate web of envy and loathing; a young gay man who becomes involved with an older man whose secret he could never guess; three women who almost gleefully throw off the pleasant agreeability society asks of them; and, in the final pair of linked stories, a young couple struggling against the devastating force of community gossip.

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Short stories
New York : Flatiron Books 2018.
Main Author
Neel Patel (author)
First edition
Physical Description
208 pages ; 22 cm
  • God of destruction
  • Hare rama, hare krishna
  • Hey, loser
  • Just a friend
  • If you see me, don't say hi
  • The taj mahal
  • The other language
  • These things happen
  • An arrangement
  • World famous
  • Radha, krishna
Review by New York Times Review

NEEL patels debut story collection is a study of doomed attachments. In "If You See Me, Don't Say Hi," no one is spared: Friendships fester, marriages combust and families fall into civilized distemper. Where did it all go wrong? Patel's characters are trying to piece it together. In elaborate feats of retrospection, his 11 narrators reenact conversations with lovers and friends, scrambling their memories for clues and causes. Hailing from backgrounds wealthy and working class, closeted and out, coastal and country, they seem to share a talent for unrequited love. That and an Indian-American heritage. This collection has everything to do with its characters' hyphenated identity and yet, somehow, nothing to do with it at all. Patel's IndianAmerican characters aren't reduced to the status of model minorities or 7-11 owners. Instead, they're introduced through a panorama of character studies - tentative, tenuous and stray observations of people humbled by their emotions. Perhaps Patel wishes to vest the literature of immigrants and their children with universal ambitions. Or perhaps he wants to skirt the question of cultural representation completely. Both impulses, two sides of the same coin, are fair. Patel gets the patter of the Indian-American household just right; the prim palaver around the tea salver strikes the right balance of nosiness and restraint. But pushed to their limits, the voices in "If You See Me, Don't Say Hi" can become defiant, needy, jealous and cold. Patel's characters may not learn from experience, but they pursue it with vigor - part of what makes the collection so refreshing. Where so much fiction about the immigrant family tends to become an exercise in anthropology, a study of inherited customs foisted on a child caught between cultures, Patel's characters are fundamentally engaged with the world. Interiority is traded for immediacy. This lust for action pairs nicely with Patel's skill set: His gifts are not so much psychological as dramatic. He has a screenwriter's knack for getting everyone in the same room, and the early stories fuse plot and subplot in a consistently surprising fashion. With bow-tie endings, Patel reminds his characters - who covet their own agency - that some things are really out of their hands. And he also reminds readers who's in charge: Lest they become accustomed to tidy finales, the later stories deliberately fray at the ends. The collection's two last (and two best) stories offer what could pass as the author's thesis statement. In "World Famous" and "Radha, Krishna," we see the same series of events from opposing points of view, and yet we come no closer to understanding what has happened. These stories, like most of the others, grieve not for individuals but for the idea that they can ever really be known. Similarly, in the title story two brothers become estranged from each other and from their partners. Race appears to open a chasm in one of the relationships, but it turns out that no union - interracial or endogamous, fraternal or romantic - is safe. All ties in Patel's world unravel according to their own precise logic: none at all. "If You See Me, Don't Say Hi" isn't about characters wedged between tradition and modernity. That reviewer's cliché, peddled even by the publisher's promotional material, misreads Patel's aims. While the collection does reflect the tensions that arise between Indian-American children and their immigrant parents, its characters' failures don't arise solely from a clash of cultures. Rather, their problems point to a truth altogether more sobering. "When it came to love," one character reminds us, "everyone was from a foreign place." SHAJ mathew has contributed to The New Republic, The New Yorker and other publications.

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [August 23, 2019]
Review by Booklist Review

Debut-author Patel's 10 compact yet meaty stories feature characters most of them first-generation Indian Americans, as the author is trying to navigate a world full of expectations (go to college, land a prestigious job, get married, have children) only to find themselves continually thwarted. Like the young man in the story Just a Friend, who finds himself in a seemingly perfect, whirlwind relationship with an older man, and soon discovers that nothing is what it seems. Or the woman who is dating the right man (one her parents approve of) yet seeks out a one-night stand with the Wi-Fi fix-it guy. Several of the stories deal with young love, of the kind where characters imagine themselves together forever only to end up strangers (hence the book's title). Patel explores universal themes in unexpected ways and excels at portraying nuanced characters in even the briefest stories. Readers in search of a fresh new voice should be on the lookout for Patel.--Sexton, Kathy Copyright 2010 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

The 11 seemingly casual and quietly feverish stories in Patel's debut follow the plight of young first- or second-generation Indian-Americans. Some characters are gay and some straight, but most of them have grown up in suburban Midwest towns where they are viewed as vaguely exotic as, in an effort to find love, they struggle to please or break away from their families. Expected to become doctors or lawyers, they often rebel in sneaky or ineffective ways. In the wrenching "Just a Friend," 22-year-old bartender Jonathan falls for, and completely fails to understand, the much older, anxious immigrant Ashwin, who wears expensive clothes and conceals or lies about most of the details of his life. In the title story, the narrator and his older brother, Deepak, move from a close friendship to a state of war over the decades, as Deepak flunks out of a "marginally rated college," joining his disappointed parents in running the motel they own, while the narrator goes to medical school. "World Famous" is told from the point of view of a member of an ill-fated couple: Ankur, a medical student from a wealthy family, is attracted to his former high school classmate Anjali, whose family is upwardly aspiring, but their relationship is doomed because of their class discrepancy. Patel has a knack for depicting the gap between how characters experience their lives and how they are expected to be seen-and how those gaps can widen into life-changing fractures. This is a perceptive, moving collection. (July) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review

Always thoughtful and often aching, the 11 sharp stories in Patel's debut find his charactersmostly first-generation Indian-Americans; usually young, or youngish; often in Midwestern citiesnavigating love, loss, and disappointment.In "god of destruction," which opens the collection, an unhappy interior designer has a one-night stand with the 22-year-old cable guy after a botched internet date. "No one ever told me that happiness was like a currency: that when it goes, it goes, and that few people are willing to give you some of theirs," she reflects. Later, she'll write the incident out of her history. In "just a friend," a 22-year-old college dropout meets a handsome married dentist at a Chicago gay bar only to find out, after a romantic weekend together, that the man isn't who he seems. The title story is both the simplest and the showstopper, about the troubled relationship between two brothers, told from the perspective of the high-achieving youngest, now a doctor. It's an empathetic family portrait, exquisitely subtle, without villains; their falling out, when it happens, triggered by a comment over a white girlfriend, is about nothing and also everything. The silence between them lasts for 10 years. The collection ends with an unexpected pair of linked stories following a boy and a girl who met as kids and again as adults, both of them having become items of community gossip. When they reconnect in their Illinois hometown, in his story, she's newly and scandalously divorced; he hasn't matched for a residency after medical school. Her story picks up years later, after both of them have achieved something like success. At the core of Patel's stories is a sense of loss, more powerful for its quiet restraint. Not every story is an equal knockout, which is a hazard of the format, but Patel's deep sense of empathyand infuriatingly relatable charactersshines throughout.A melancholic pleasure with a sense of humor. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.