The New Yorker Reader: “The Elephant,” by Aravind Adiga

by |
01/22/2009 2:00 PM |

Does that cover strike you as kind of fawning and embarrassing? Anyway.

So Aravind Adiga is an Indian-born, globe-trotting author who won the Booker for his first novel The White Tiger. Which I’m guessing was better than this story. I mean, how could it not be?

The extent to which observations about class injustice are raised as if they’ve never occurred to anyone ever before now — I suppose this is possibly justifiable, as a third-person narration true to the angry but limited perspective of the one-rung-above-beggars protagonist. But the fallacy of imitative form has to apply at some point, and I’m going to say that that point is when Adiga has his protagonist say “Those who are born poor in this country are fated to die poor. There is no hope for us, and no need of pity…”

And the close-third explanation doesn’t really explain, does it, the blatantly obvious visual metaphors (pigs shitting, dogs humping, an elephant used, like the protagonist, as nothing but a load-bearer), and the exhaustive exegesis of seemingly intuitive gestures (“the man from Madras was not grinning; he had turned his face away, as if he were ashamed at what Chenayya had said”).

There are two ways to make this a better story. One way is the Gordon Lish on Raymond Carver way — just cut cut cut, take out all the thoughts and feelings and too-pointed images, so that the words and actions force us to fill in the spaces — psychological and sociological — around the mostly elliptical sentences. The other way is… well, apparently The White Tiger is narrated in the first person. I think that’d help considerably; this story seems unimaginative in its depiction of what this bitter poor person is thinking, and putting it into the first person, so that the character’s subjectivity would have to be inhabited rather than merely summarized, making for a more creative, specific character, and filtering some ultimately really banal dead-end-developing-world-poverty episodes.