To follow SJ Sindu’s work over the past few years is to admire diversity of form. From novels (Marriage of a Thousand Lies, Blue-Skinned Gods) to children’s literature (Shakti) to chapbooks (Dominant Genes) to short stories, Sindu proves there are so many ways interpret modern life—through fairy tale tropes, literary parallels, and tightly framed narratives. In The Goth House Experiment, Sindu understands each concept they take on and follows them from beginning to end, never shying away from emotional detail.
The first story, “Dark Academia and the Lesbian Masterdoc,” borders on cringe-inducing with its temporality. It is always challenging to read about present-day technology, and Sindu exploits this discomfort in excruciating detail. Our narrator, a middle-aged professor in a newly open marriage, is thrust into the world of TikTok trends and viral infamy. As the boundaries between her private and social life dissolve, she cries out for nuance from an audience incapable of it. While the unrealistic pace of Sindu’s narrator’s descent is comical, stretched to horror proportions that don’t resonate until the end, the story sheds light on what it means to exist on and offline, and how such choices are not always in our hands.
Stories such as “Patriot’s Day” and “Wild Ale” take on timely material as well, such as a rising current of anti-Asian xenophobia and the existential dread of the COVID-19 pandemic. But rather than writing template “pandemic stories,” Sindu gives us characters we can latch onto, such as the tragic philanderer Amit or “Wild Ale”’s craft beer-obsessed narrator. Their eccentricities and mistakes elevate their settings and prevent them from reading as trite.
In “The Goth House Experiment” and “Miracle Boy,” Sindu turns to surreal, mythical tales that hearken back to their work in Blue-Skinned Gods and Shakti. The title story features a struggling poet haunted by the ghost of Oscar Wilde, whose separate inner demons lead to the destruction of his failed writing utopia. This story shows off Sindu’s talent for witty banter, but like “Dark Academia and the Lesbian Masterdoc,” the pacing of the story feels limited by the word count, rushed to its climatic resolution without allowing for time to breathe.
“Miracle Boy” is a straightforward tragic tale, well constructed to the end, if a bit sentimental. Featuring a young boy who grows a large pair of feathered wings, the story highlights the inherent danger of mob rule and, although it takes place in a more distant context, feels at home with the raving COVID-protesting mobs of “Wild Ale,” and the internet mob of “Dark Academia.” Indeed, if The Goth House Experiment is about anything, the relation of the individual to a broader, teeming mass rises above as a primary idea, and Sindu muses on this idea in novel, exciting ways. Some stories read satisfying to the end, while others call for more pages and words than they are given, but overall, the collection is succinct, immensely readable, and perfect for the chilly months of fall.
The Goth House Experiment
By SJ Sindu
Published October 17, 2023
Malavika Praseed is a writer, book reviewer, and genetic counselor. Her fiction has been published in Plain China, Cuckoo Quarterly, Re:Visions, and others. Her podcast, YOUR FAVORITE BOOK, is available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and various other platforms