A high school teacher begins to question the course of his life after a famous young actress moves into town. In the starlet’s shadow, his girlfriend, his mother, his neighbor, and his students take on strange new dimensions. Told in a series of snapshots, UNDERSTUDIES presents a sharp, funny, and heartbreaking study of beauty, celebrity, and everyday needs.
“Funny, moving, perceptive, artful — these are the first words that came to mind when I tried to describe UNDERSTUDIES to a friend. And then, to better capture its spirit, I began reading it aloud and marveled all over again at Ravi Mangla’s ability to tell us, with precision and wit, what deserves to be known.”
– Joanna Scott
“Ravi Mangla’s delightingly tight, micro-chaptered UNDERSTUDIES is an unassumingly beautiful and moving debut. It’s elegantly and hilariously precise about everything it touches, and it touches almost everything human.”
– Gary Lutz
“Ravi Mangla’s UNDERSTUDIES is a brilliant meditation on the private cost of celebrity, the longing to transcend the ordinary, and the seductive nature of performance. Darkly funny, sharply-observed, and terrifically moving, UNDERSTUDIES is an essential debut.”
– Laura van den Berg, THE ISLE OF YOUTH
“With the absurdist realism of A.M Homes and the perverse randomness of Miranda July, Ravi Mangla’s UNDERSTUDIES asks ‘is the unacknowledged life worth living,’ and – in a prose as original as the novel itself – answers, definitively, yes.”
– Courtney Maum
“What I love most about the fragmented structure is that it allows me to maximize the potential of each page. I can get to the crux of the scene without wasting words on perfunctory transitions. The ordering process also presents an interesting challenge — trying to arrange the sections as to build some sort of rapport between them.” – Ravi and Edward J. Rathke talk about structure, influences and the potential for dating books at Monkeybicycle.
“I admire books with no fat or filler, that seek to distill their message to its most essential essence, and that’s an exceedingly rare quality in a large novel.” – Mel Bosworth talks shop with Ravi at Fanzine.
“The sound of the sentence is very important to me. . . I’m going to say it over and over again until everything seems in order. . .” – Ravi and Brad Listi at Other People talk about the writing life, from anxiety and Paxil to a closet full of religion, non-ethnic writing and the horrors of red-carpet fame.
“Music plays a pretty major role in Understudies. The main character – a high school teacher – is a former rock guitarist who joins a band made up of kids. (Now that I’m saying it out loud, it sounds an awful lot like The School of Rock.) For this playlist I tried to select songs I’d expect a high school garage band to have in rotation. . .” – Ravi Mangla at largehearted boy
“. . .something else tugs at the periphery of the form, and I think it turns Understudies into a little slice of genius. For, as it happens, these deadpan observations accumulate not temporally but morally. They define a world, and that is the world of suburbia. Urban and rural landscapes grip most of the contemporary fictional imagination, and at least since Cheever and Updike, suburban locales have been deeply site-specific. But Mangla’s town could be anywhere that contains a yard, a high school, a dry-cleaner and a hardware store. His locales are iconic, composed of places to run errands, take unsatisfying jobs, get buzzed and form relationships based on proximity and assumed values. The drifting form of this book is complicit and brilliant. . .” – Merridawn Duckler, Heavy Feather Review
“. . .in an era in which we communicate largely through pictures and blurbs on Facebook, carefully honing our own self-image and participating in the images of our friends and friendly acquaintances, intimacy is a timely theme. And this is loneliness for our times. . . the emotional weight of the story comes not from its climaxes, but from their surrounding moments; in The Office [on the BBC], these moments were tightly focused around the florescent hum of everyday life in a singularly unspectacular office. In the world of Understudies, the office is everywhere. In Understudies, everyone is an understudy. We see the world through the steaming coffee swirls of a distant mother’s offer of comfort food, through blockbuster schlock, through the beautiful mirage of the books’ last gorgeous image, which I won’t give away here. Reading Understudies is something akin to binge watching The Office all alone, during a transitional period in your life, with a cheap air conditioning window unit blasting to keep the night heat out. It’s that good.” – Claudia Smith, Necessary Fiction
“Ravi Mangla’s debut was excerpted on Vol. 1 Brooklyn a few weeks ago, and I immediately bought it. Reminiscent of J. Robert Lennon’s Pieces for the Left Hand, the chapters are no longer than a page; sometimes less, and each narrative thread carries with it a sharp twang. Understudies felt like eavesdropping on a conversation in the powder room of your local whorehouse. . .” – Jason Rice, 3 Guys, 1 Book
“Mangla takes us into a deadpan, sharply-observed novel about the sadness pervading a contemporary world fixated on simulation and celebrity. . . For every small taste of fame, the narrator endures countless instances of awkward disconnect. Mangla’s quick vignettes mine tiny, humdrum spaces, but they hone in on the sad desires and excruciating moments that have come to largely define the narrator’s life. One of his most erotically charged experiences comes as a dental hygienist scrapes his teeth. In an early scene, he attends a child’s Harry Potter-themed birthday party and realizes he’s wearing a sweater that makes him look like a member of a rival house. These moments in Understudies are very funny, and in scene after scene, Mangla offers us the narrator’s life at its most pained and cringe-worthy. . .” – Michael Jauchen, 3AM Magazine
“I dig Mangla’s way with words and he’s a writer to watch, for sure. This book reminds me a bit, the more I think about it, as a slightly less weird cousin to Patrick deWitt’s Ablutions – they both tap into a similar vein of nameless insecurity, but in an enjoyable fashion. . .” – Raging Biblioholism
Ravi Mangla lives in Fairport, NY. His work has appeared in Mid-American Review, American Short Fiction, Tin House Online, The Rumpus, Mental Floss, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, among other publications. He keeps a website at ravimangla.com, and you’ll find him on GoodReads here.