Nishanth Injam’s perceptive and penetrating debut collection, The Best Possible Experience, offers a quietly powerful look at a fundamental human desire—for a sense of home, a place to belong—through an intriguing cast of characters from the Indian diaspora. Of the 11 stories, only two have been previously published: “The Math of Living” in VQR and Best Debut Short Stories 2021, and “Come With Me” in The Georgia Review and Best American Magazine Writing 2022.
In the touching title story, the formidable bus driver Mr. Lourenco does his best to instill optimism in his son despite societal prejudices. Mr. Lourenco’s strategies to provide opportunities for his son are creative, albeit sometimes questionable. In “The Immigrant,” Aditya follows a “simple” plan to earn a master’s degree from an American school and find a good job to pay for a lung transplant for his mother. In restrained yet dramatic fashion, Injam reveals how this strategy gets complicated.
A journey home takes a turn in “The Bus,” in which the story’s unnamed protagonist, a “techie” who works at a Bank of America call center in the bustling Indian city of Bengaluru, procures a ticket on a luxury bus, complete with a toilet and air conditioning. It’s the weekend of Diwali, but the trip to his village is anything but festive, as things soon spiral into a Stephen King-esque nightmare. “Summers of Waiting” is a gentle yet ominous odyssey through memory as Sita races home from the U.S. to see the grandfather who raised her.
There are affecting observations on Indian and American cultures in “Lunch at Paddy’s,” in which Paddy is thrilled that his 12-year-old son has invited a school friend home for lunch but is consumed with worry about what to serve and how to act around a white boy. And in “The Protocol,” Gautham has paid a Black woman to marry him, and as he nervously prepares for his green card interview, he discovers his increasing affinity for her.
Injam compares and contrasts his many characters, their situations and experiences—specifically, what constitutes home for them and how they cope. Masterful descriptions convey their heart-rending memories and hard-hitting emotions. An enlightening collection full of cultural and societal insights, The Best Possible Experience is a must for readers who loved Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist and Samanta Schweblin’s Seven Empty Houses.