Welcome to the highly conflicted world of Sid,the protagonist of Ananth’s debut novel, Play with Me. As one of the founders of Alpha, a boutique ad agency, Sid has everything an entrepreneur can ever hope for – money, a job worth waking up for, a reliable car, a corner office with a view, overseas clients, and beautiful girls throwing themselves at him. Unapologetically “lookist” and “weightist”, Sid has an affair, a fling, or at least a brief electrically charged encounter, with every girl he comes in contact with. But this is where Sid is the most vulnerable, too – the man doesn’t demonstrate a shred of restraint in the face of temptation – and as a result we never see him take a single hard call. Decisions for him are made by the ladies in his life, most of whom seem to have him wrapped around their little fingers. Starting from Kay, his first girlfriend, to the ethereal beauty Cara, and the warm and nurturing Nat, women walk into and out of his life as per their convenience, and the poor soul continues his journey without ever learning a lesson. All of us have come across someone like Sid some time, somewhere, and part of his charm lies in his flaws. It is easy to see why Nat chooses to “mother” him.
The quality of writing in most places is good, though some passages spent on internalization could probably have been edited down. They do nothing but state the obvious and slow down the otherwise pacy narrative. The style is bold and dabbles with symbolism – I would in particular like to mention the borrowed umbrella that Nat forgets to bring back to the hotel on the night when she and Sid share their first kiss. Both Sid and Nat know that the kiss was a borrowed moment, and both must go back to their everyday lives, where the kiss should ideally be nothing but a memory. But their world, just like ours, isn’t ideal and, therefore, they had their dinner by a glass window that “overlooked a brick wall.” Now, go figure.
The book stood out for me for several reasons, and one of them is the cover. Conceptualized and designed with care, the cover is simple and still manages to catch your eye. And wait till you run your fingers along the jacket on the hardcover. It feels like velvet. The book is also the first erotic fiction I have read that manages to transcend into the territory of literary fiction at places. I will also remember the book because before this I have never read an erotic fiction where the protagonist is a man.
If there is one thing that I would definitely change in the book, it is the name of the protagonist. “Sid” has been so overused in recent fiction that all the Sids kind of merge into one another after a point.