Book review: The Fire Ant’s Sting by Kamalini Natesan

From the back cover:

The road to perdition is paved with desires. An expat couple resort to illicit means to hoard wealth. A small-town author yearns for fame and laurels at the risk of alienating his family. A widowed woman is desperate to preserve her youthful looks and turn the clock back. An eager-to-please, do-gooder mother seeks respect and reciprocation of her efforts. The common thread weaving through these stories is a pulsating and addictive desire to attain what one craves for at any cost. In Fire-Ant’s Sting: Desire Diaries, Kamalini Natesan explores, through twelve varied characters, the different facets of desire—a primal human emotion—and how its pursuit blinds one to reason. Alternately wry and full of pathos, daring and evocative, this is a delectable diary of desires that will leave you asking for more.

Desire is one of the human emotions that is generally suppressed the most, and is yet the single-biggest driver of our actions. We are adept at suppressing desire, at painting it as “too much”, as taboo.

Perhaps no one knows this better than eighties kids, whose parents constantly told them to limit their dreams to practical realities, perhaps because that is the way so many of them were raised.

But that isn’t how desire works.

Desire arises, takes root, and then remains — a constant companion, an ache, a longing. That’s the aspect of desire that Natesan seeks to explore with her stories.

And it is an interesting premise, isn’t it? The desire for fame, for youthfulness, for money, for revenge, for respect — it could have made for some excellent stories…some evocative depictions of the human condition.

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However, the book falls flat for me. For one, there’s a crude sexual undertone to many of the stories — even the ones where none was really needed to move the story forward. Like The Fire Ant’s Sting: Desire for Wealth, which tells the story of an expat couple, Eva and her husband Bob and his insatiable desire for wealth. He manages to convince his wife to skim money off the donations that her organization receives, but all it apparently takes is her grasping “the urgency in my ‘pleas’ to give in” because she is “simple like that”.

In Cloistered Spectrum: Desire to preserve beauty, we have Myra, a widow who feels like one half of herself has died after the death of her husband. So now, to fill that void, she takes on a string of lovers, reveling in her wealth and good looks. Until “ambiguous feelings upsurged after this man’s departure [this man being the gardener next door]. I took cognizance of them and smiled a real smile.” So while she had her string of lovers, “Markesh’s haloed being stayed with me. He had begun to overwhelm my senses, diluting my self-image without untangling its spledour. What he was doing was abetting the process of extracting my neglected beauty.” A beauty she was apparently relying on to get her string of lovers? Though the end of the story is rather sweet, there’s also no real examination of how desire drives us — Natesan just falls back on sexual desires to move a story forward.

The other problem I had was with the language, as you can probably see from the few short snippets I shared. This isn’t just incorrect English or an editing team that hasn’t done its job — it is, from my perspective, simply bad writing.

The other gripe I have is that the book was incorrectly classified as literary fiction — there’s nothing remotely literary about this book.

The one silver lining is perhaps the fact that Natesan has explored themes like body positivity and LGBTQ relationships, but that really isn’t enough to redeem the book.

It’s unfortunate, really, because it had excellent potential to make for a very interesting study in human behaviors and drivers.

Book deThe Fire Ant's Sting by Kamalini Natesan book reviewtails

Title & author: The Fire Ant’s Sting: Desire Diaries by Kamalini Natesan

Publisher: Om Books International

Genre: Literary & Contemporary Fiction; Short stories

Number of pages: 240

Price: 365

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I’m an artist and art educator, podcaster, tarot reader, and writer. I share my discoveries along the path to inspire you to live a more creative, soul-centered life. Receive my love letters for more of my musings on life and creativity. P.S. I love Instagram - join me there?

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