Poor David Tan. Things have not gone well for the harried protagonist of Chandra Shekhar’s novel Mock My Words. His position at Steinbeck University, one he thought of as a dream job, leaves him unfulfilled and struggling to connect with students who don’t take him seriously due to his accented English. His colleagues are brusque and cold. His wife, Laura, doesn’t give him enough attention or affection. Melissa, a brilliant student with whom he shares a cultural and emotional connection, suddenly ignores him as well.
Shekhar’s choice to write a novel about Chinese-American identity is interesting and not inherently problematic; however, it veers towards the stereotypical at times. The same can be said about the students at the university, who seem to be representing archetypes more than coming alive as living, breathing characters. There are moments of amusing commentary and observation, but some of this material is by rote. Additionally, Shekhar has a tendency to repeat his descriptions without adding anything new to the story.
These issues are offset by Shekhar’s sympathetic portrayal of David, as well as the dynamics of his marriage – Laura is a well-drawn and vibrant character, offering a compelling balance to David’s awkwardness. Overall, Mock My Words is a little too generic in some of its observations of campus life, but it’s held together by an empathetic central character, well thought-out subplots, and enough incisive observations and eloquent wordplay to keep the reader engaged.