The back cover of my copy of "Urban Shots" quotes "has all the ingredients of a breezy read…". That sentence is incomplete.
This ostensibly simple collection of love stories has the ingredients all right, with short tales of love written lucidly making you turn the pages, but still manages to be anything but a breezy read. Because every now and then you find a story tug at something in your heart - invoking emotions, asking questions, rising memories - and you find yourself engulfed in a reverie of your own, not turning to the next story anytime soon. And every now and then you find yourself wondering what next would have happened, dreaming about a world you can see but don't live in, angry at the author for not telling you more. And if you're any bit of a hopeless romantic like I am, or are otherwise soft at heart, at least once you will find yourself shedding a tear or two for something you won't entirely be sure about.
Urban Shots may not be pathbreaking fiction, era-defining literature or even a book you'd remember the title of a few years down the line, but in its quintessential simplicity it is something that carries a bit of us, all caught in the mad whirlwind of pacy urban lives, complex relationship dynamics, un-understood demands of the heart and irrational rationality of the head.
With 31 stories themed around love, not even 10 pages each in length, and many by first time authors, you expect a bit of sameness and you get it. Actually, most of them are not really stories, they're like screenplays with context of random scenes we see around ourselves each day - two girls talking over coffee, a woman walking out of a mall having met a date over lunch, a phonecall from an ex-lover never really forgotten, an outburst between two strangers bound by something close in common. For the better stories, you can immediately see it happening in front of your eyes. For the best ones, you can feel them happening to you. That's why I think the top picks for every reader would subjectively vary with where they saw themselves at that point in life. Having said that, would recommend "Beyond Reasonable Doubt", "The Last Look", "Making Out", "A Good day", "Strangers", "Twisted", "High Time", "Reality Bytes"
The biggest letdown of the book for me was that a LOT of the stories sound the same, in terms of the voice of the narrative. The editor's voice feels too strong at times, the writing style too homogenous for a collection, and that takes away some of its freshness. Barring a few exceptions, the ones which retain heterogeneity actually feel badly written though, and therefore I can't judge whether they're a result of some mellowing by the editor on something even worse, or the writer's insistence to leave a few tales alone. The ones that feel freshest are the ones where the writer's semi-autobiographical voice seeps through a line or a setting, and you smile to yourself, almost trying to tell the writer - you understand.