I stumbled upon Mehdi’s short story ‘Cured’ in The Four Way Review. I loved it. I reached out to Mehdi to know more about the story. This interview is a result of that.
The unreliability of the narrator ‘Nader’ struck me as the most memorable part of the story. Can you tell us the inspiration behind creating him?
I’ve seen many people who go through tough separations. I find it interesting how they continue to be hung up on their past relationships, long after they (purportedly) moved on or even met other people. It doesn’t necessarily mean that their lives are halted, but you can tell something is brewing in the back of their mind by the soft way they mention their ex-lovers in conversations.
And I think, in this case, the unreliability comes from the inner struggle the protagonist has with himself. The way I see it, he’s not trying to play with his audience. It’s just that we as readers follow his train of thought, how he keeps correcting himself. It’s as if his superego is always present.
Any favourite unreliable narrators?
I came to know about this concept when I was reading Lolita. I enjoyed how Humbert Humbert provided a skewed reality in his narrative. Then, I was more exposed to it later in the cinema (mostly based on books). A clear example being Gone Girl.
How did Tara Alavi, the character, come about?
To me, Tara Alavi represents many Iranian immigrants who find a better understanding of what they want and what they don’t (It’s truer for women as they cherish the freedom they find). Tara is definitely a strong-willed character who also has a soft edge. What was important for me was the skepticism about whether the new employee is indeed Tara or not.
Information in a story is crucial- how much to provide and withhold makes all the difference, I think. Did you plan it out for this story or did you go with the flow?
I rarely start anything without knowing how it ends, and how it gets there. I know some writers don’t work like that. But for me, it usually takes a long time since an idea is conceived and when I begin to actually write it. I don’t like to leave anything to chance. That being said, inspirations are always welcome.
This quote by Harper Lee came to mind:
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
Is this why the story is written in first person-for the reader to empathise with Nader?
Well, each story has its own needs. There are various factors involved. Sometimes you want a specific voice for a story that is only achievable in first person. Sometimes you need to be close to a character’s head, other times you want to keep distance. Just two weeks ago I rewrote a short story in a new POV only because I felt the third person didn’t work. But for “Cured”, from the get-go I knew it had to be first person.
Nader and his wife’s relationship is interesting. ‘Can you really know someone?’ popped in my mind. Any comments?
Everyone has a dark side. People can be friends or be in a relationship and yet not know all aspects of each other’s personality. It is, in part, because nobody truly knows themselves to begin with. People are unpredictable, a product of complex chemical reactions.
What is it about the short fiction form that you find yourself drawn to as a writer?
Short fiction is a microcosm of the longer form. Everything about novels is there, only in (much) smaller scale. The timespan between an idea and a finished short story is usually shorter. The time it takes to revise/rewrite, submit and publish is also quicker. And obviously, the rewards (the size of the audience, the monetary aspect, etc.) are far limited. I like short stories because they help me to experiment at a lower cost.
You have mentioned some favourite stories of yours on your website. What is it about ‘The Husband’s Stitch’ that makes it your favourite (as a writer)?
I read it a long time ago, but what I remember after so many years is how its fragmented structure works in the story. Also, it is one of those stories in which a strong voice governs everything.
In the story, there is a reference to social media presence/absence. While exploring your website, I stumbled upon your page ‘Twitmeter’ that lists literary magazines based on their popularity on Twitter. Do you think young readers are heavily reliant on social media and thus identify themselves in stories that refer to social media in any way?
We are lucky if young readers read anything longer than 280 characters, be it about social media or not. No, it wasn’t really the reason. It was a means for the narrator to show his obsession. And I do think that social media has become a perfect playground for obsessive minds.
I found these two lines strikingly relatable:
He sits across from me, but sometimes prefers the privacy of online chat over yelling.
Hey, we have a new Iranian concierge. You might know him? Oh, what about my Iranian Uber driver?
Do you usually run your stories by readers before sending them out for publication to see if they have the desired effect?
I do, with most of them. I’m lucky to have a few loyal readers around me. Also, I’m part of a writing group which also helps a lot to direct me towards the parts that need more development. They’re kind enough (or harsh enough, if you will) to say if the piece doesn’t work as it is. In general, I don’t think there’s such a thing as a “bad” reader. Any layperson represents a specific category of readers and if you want to target that audience, it’d help to listen to their take on the piece.
“The movie club in Tehran” made me think of Asghar Farhadi. Are you a fan?
I am a fan. With every film he makes, he causes a stir in the Iranian community around the world. I think he has a good lens through which he shrewdly observes the eccentricities of the people of his country. And he’s also a terrific storyteller. So, good ingredients and a great chef. The outcome should be extraordinary. That being said, I have a feeling that he’s been repeating himself in the last few films, which, in a sense, could be a familiar syndrome that inflicts successful people. I hope not.
Mehdi M. Kashani lives and writes in Toronto, Canada. His fiction and nonfiction can be found in Passages North, The Rumpus, Catapult, The Malahat Review, Wigleaf, The Walrus, Bellevue Literary Review, Four Way Review, The Minnesota Review, Emrys Journal (for which he won 2019 Sue Lile Inman Fiction Award), among others. mehdimkashani.com Michelle D'costa is a Mangalorean from Bahrain. She has poetry and prose published in various journals like Queen Mob's Teahouse, Coldnoon, The Sunflower Collective, Guftugu, Vayavya, The Bombay Literary Magazine, Visual Verse and more. She loves to interview writers and runs the ezine Kaani. michellewendydcosta.wordpress.com/