With a lucid and humor injected style, Raj Dronamraju’s CRIPPLED HEARTS takes the reader along a series of intimate relationships. His narrative, balanced between detail and momentum, and on the verge of stream of consciousness, depicts the discovery of the very real women found between the protagonist, Gerald Rao, and getting laid. Vivid character portraits give way to graphic love scenes, as Gerald tries to rationalize his complex of attitudes—sometimes admirable, often despicable, and almost always misanthropic and at odds with an American social structure perceived as corrupt.
Although alluding to Japanese I Novels, James Joyce’s work, and Henry Miller’s pre-beatnik outsider novel, TROPIC OF CANCER, this semi-autobiographical novel is culled from real life experiences, people and places. CRIPPLED HEARTS dissects human connections made possible by the internet in the late 1990’s to early 2000’s, turning the traditional romance novel inside out: “romance” from an often bitter young loner’s libidinous perspective. Here, various flawed characters seek affection, especially as we see through a narrator whose own perceptions reveal him as much as his sexual partners as real human beings with more than a modicum of heart.
CRIPPLED HEARTS operates on several levels—as the narrator’s infidelities to his wife parallel his lack of faith in traditional ideals, the American dream, or ultimately even his own moral compass. No: “hope” is about getting lucky. Yet, by the end of this chapter in his life, the narrator emerges not perfect, but improved for the relationships he has sacrificed. Not a traditional Don Juan, Casanova, or even Dracula-type of story, this novel reveals not a confidence man, but a man trying to build confidence; a broken heart on the mend, breaking hearts, and finally seeking forgiveness when faced with solid reality following a climactic fantasy tryst in China. CRIPPLED HEARTS is the first of a series of six novels by Raj Dronamraju, each with a different set of organizing themes and structures that together form a comprehensive critique of not just life in America but Western culture as a whole.