There is much promise going into A History Of Objects by Carlo Pizzati. The book’s blurb does its job exceedingly well—it tells the prospective reader that the collection “explores the nuances of the human experience as objects of sentimental value, nostalgic appeal or cultural significance bear witness and shed light on all that remains unsaid…expertly demonstrates the ways in which the inanimate are far from lifeless”.
If this isn’t enough to raise expectations, Pizzati’s standing does: He’s a well-regarded writer and a seasoned journalist who has taught theory at the Chennai-based Asian College of Journalism. The third layer of expectation stems from the lineup of objects—from the traditional south Indian coconut-scraper on the cover to the contents page that lists, intriguingly, The Hand Sanitizer, The VHS Tape, The Driver’s License, The Candy Box and The Wind-up Cockroach, among others.
But what disappointment lies in store. The stories are lazy; the slightly off-kilter ones are forgettable, reading like fictionalised versions of what could be notes from the author’s diary.
The story of The Jade Stone, for example, is one of the weakest in this already weak collection, demonstrating the problem with the book. An older couple are on a call with Mithu, a 20-something friend they jokingly refer to as their “adopted daughter”. She’s successful, her life is exciting.
The narrator, the husband, embodies a bored middle-aged-man’s voice—one who wants to live vicariously through the “fun” stories she tells them. The trope is as bored as what it is reflecting. The story needed that spark of a moment, the one that epitomises a short story well-done.
We wait for the end of the fourth page in a four-and-a-half-page story, for this moment. But the titular object is thrown in forcibly as Mithu narrates the story of a boy and their breakup.
It turns out to be an unfortunate, wasted opportunity. This should have been the moment of reckoning, when everything falls into place, when the premise comes into its own, when you are surprised into realising what you were already expecting. It is for this magical moment that we read short stories, the reason they work so well. They are little booster shots of literature: pinpricks of awareness, a momentary release into mindless fun, an unlocking of what we had buried.
The quest for a story that does relatively well takes you to The Hand Sanitizer, a story set in the pandemic, about a Bengaluru family and their family driver from Nepal. Its “moment” works endearingly, and it leaves you wanting to know just a bit more about these characters, just as it should. Its mildly amusing premise, however, is terribly predictable. Just as with the story titled The Portrait, about a man who is attracted to his mother’s friend and develops a friendship with her artist son—it will be no spoiler to let on that there’s a reference to Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray in there.