Fiction

Over the Edge: A mélange of thrill, suspense, agony and ecstasy

Sravanthi Challapalli | Updated on: May 19, 2022

Vandana Kumari Jena’s latest short story collection is a crisp, fast-paced read full of layered surprises

Over the Edge is Vandana Kumari Jena’s latest short story collection. The writer wastes no time in getting to the subject of the stories and that makes for a crisp, fast-paced read. There are 24 stories in the book and they cover a gamut of themes and human conditions – revenge, jealousy, sibling rivalry, sacrifice, suspicion, infidelity, marriage, public vs private image, paranormality, single womanhood, poverty, aspiration, assertiveness. Current concerns and circumstances such as COVID-19, selfie deaths (India has the dubious distinction of having the highest number in the world) and trouble in some North-Eastern states become the background for some stories.

By the second or third story, you are pretty sure of what’s going to come ahead, but Jena takes you by surprise by adding another surprise, or another layer, if not a twist, to the tale. Some of these revelations have the aura of stealth and suddenness more than some others. There is no flashy build-up to a big reveal. The narration is calm, unhurried, and the first surprise is often stated simply, to great effect.  Burning Bright is a story that best describes this approach. It’s even predictable, but you are almost likely to miss the statement that confirms what you’ve been suspecting.

Breaking Barriers is not a suspenseful tale in the conventional sense, but the ending takes your breath away. It is a story of many themes, sibling rivalry engendered by the preference for a male child, of one sibling evading responsibility, of a daughter finding her voice when the beloved son cannot make it for his mother’s funeral – and the startling manifestation of that voice that is the end to this story.

Some of the themes are repeated in several stories, but with different outcomes.  After the Storm too is a story of sibling rivalry, but between sisters, and while it was possible to guess the end, it made for a poignant, uplifting read. Other stories that fall into this category are  Queen for a Day and  Ring of Fire, the latter set against the rather unusual backdrop of a circus. In another book, the events in  Queen for a Day would have been the stuff of mystery and suspense, but here, they just have you rooting for the ‘heroine’.  Guilt deals with a woman of a certain age grieving for her dead husband and dealing with the lack of male companionship while being cared for by her son’s widow, whom she was not fond of.

Not all the stories are designed to get your adrenalin racing, though. Just as the reader is all primed to expect another twist, the stories turn into works where the mood is more reflective. Not all stories are full of twists, they also capture a moment in time which can take you over the edge just as much as a murder can.  Nightmare, Blood Wins, Coma and  The Quest are some of these.

Just as you think the stage has been set for a shift in mood in the book, the twists and turns come back with a vengeance. There are a few stories that are predictable but not too many in number. There are a few typos. The story-telling is smooth. The cover is pleasant enough to lull you into forgetting that there will be shocks inside, even though it’s of a tree shedding its blossoms on the edge of a cliff.

(Sravanthi Challapalli is an independent writer and editor based in Chennai)

About the book

Over the Edge

Vandana Kumari Jena

Rupa Publications

216 pages; Rs 262

Check out the book on Amazon here

Published on May 19, 2022
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