Good Americans is an interesting if flawed collection of nine short stories plus an Introduction designed to promote the book and justify the author's publishing it through his own New Wei Literary Movement and Collective. According to his website, Desai, the son of Indian immigrants, graduated from the Queens College MFA program with a degree in creative writing and literary translation in 2009.
The stories include "Old Guido," a first-person account by an elderly bigot (he reminded me of a nasty Archie Bunker) of his involvement with a teenage Hispanic girl; "The Apprentice" in which an adjunct professor becomes entranced by a Chinese masseuse; "The Mountain" in which two old friends use the occasion of a hike to try to catch up and reconnect; "Malta: A Love Story" in three parts follows a much-abused southern girl and three college buddies—an African-American, an Indian-American, and a White-American; "Bridget's Brother" reports a dinner between three young people, one of whom particularly loathsome; and in "Dhan's Debut" a journalist pursues a charismatic lawyer. The title story, "Good Americans," told in the first person, dramatizes the last night of a crippled Iraq veteran.
These are stories primarily of young men who do drugs, hold marginal and dead-end jobs (although many of them are college graduates). I found the most convincing to be the sons of Indian immigrants and who are trying to be both good sons and make their way in this country. In the introduction, Desai writes in the persona of a literary agent who is presenting this book, "Here was a fresh voice from the darkest recesses of the soul, a racist against all races who was aware of his affliction but was unashamed...here was a portrait of a stained and scarred America, full of the guts and glory of our nation: of greed, racism, buffoonery, elitism, false honor, straight out of the pages of Mark Twain or a Sinclair Lewis novel, but set in the 21st century, today." Well, perhaps some reader will find that.
Unfortunately, others will find that the book badly needed an editor. It is wordy, and often unconvincing. I felt the characters were often doing things not because it was in their makeup to do them but because the author wanted them to do it to make a point. Sixty-five-year-old Riny at first has only contempt for 15-year-old Taina. Then he finds beaten and unconscious in a Queens park, and not only takes her home but eventually buys her a cell phone. When she initiates sex and offers her anus, Riny is too squeamish for that, but not too squeamish to find a condom and take her virginity. A southern sheriff tells the non-white college boys not to look too hard for the missing Malta: "This ain't your little college town. We still hear talk about lynchings here. And especially given you're looking for your white girlfriend, A definite no-no."
In any event, this is presented as Volume I of "The Human Tragedy" and with more experience, Desai will in future volumes be able to smooth some of his writing's rough edges while retaining the passion and vision.