Saturday, May 25, 2013

"The Caretaker"

A .X. Ahmad was raised in India, educated at Vassar College and M.I.T., and has worked internationally as an architect. His short stories have been published in literary magazines, and he’s been listed in Best American Essays. The Caretaker is his first novel, to be followed by Bollywood Taxi next year. He lives in Washington, D.C.

Ahmad applied the Page 69 Test to The Caretaker and reported the following:
Much to my chagrin, page 69 of my thriller, The Caretaker, was a quiet scene.

The protagonist, a recent Indian immigrant, has just come home, and stands in the doorway of a borrowed house in Martha’s Vineyard, looking in at his wife and young daughter. At first glance, just a quiet, domestic moment.

And yet: things are not what they seem.

Someone wants to kill this man. He has just been attacked by a savage dog, and killed it with a knife, utilizing skills learned years ago in the Indian Army.

He hides his wounds from his wife and daughter, because they are, for once, happy. In the midst of a brutally cold winter, he has illegally moved them into a rich man’s empty mansion. Here his family, warm and safe, can wear Indian clothes and pretend they are back in India.

This is why the man hesitates at the doorway. Looking in at his own life, he savors this moment of domestic bliss. But he knows that it cannot last, because there is a darkness out there.

The Caretaker is, after all, a thriller. Here’s an excerpt from page 69:
It is dark by the time Ranjit gets back to Aquinnah. He parks outside the house and unbuttons his shirt to check for scratches: his shoulder is bruised, but, thank the Guru, his skin is unbroken, the thick canvas jacket having absorbed the impact of the dog’s assault. The jacket is ripped and useless now. Taking it off, he stuffs it into his toolbox before entering the house.

He expects Preetam to be on the phone, but instead it is quiet, and he can hear the low murmur of voices.

Standing in the entryway, he sees Preetam sitting on the gray leather couch, with Shanti on the floor below her. He watches as Preetam gently combs through the tangles in Shanti’s long, curly hair, then pours oil from a bottle and massages it into her daughter’s scalp. The sickly sweet fragrance of coconut oil fills the room.
Learn more about the book and author at A.X. Ahmad's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue