Problems Reviewed

Jade Sharma’s Problems

Jade Sharma’s Problems is a gutsy work of fiction that doesn’t skimp on the raw details and, ultimately, delivers a sense of resolution for its troubled narrator. Our narrator and protagonist is a young Indian American woman called Maya who is living in New York City. She struggles with addictions throughout the entire novel: whether it’s heroin, anorexia or sex, Maya always seems to be battling one issue or another. As the reader, we feel like Maya is our friend and we’re along for the ride through her daily life of snorting heroin, eating nothing but yogurt and fantasizing about her older lover, Ogden Fitch. It doesn’t matter that she’s a mess because she’s also funny and witty so we, as the reader, become attached to her.

Maya is in her early twenties and is having a complicated love affair with her sixty-one year old former professor, Ogden. We later discover he never really loved her and it was mostly just a physical relationship; this is something that she questions and is tormented with throughout the novel. Maya is also married at the time of her affair to a more suitable mate (one who is closer to her own age), Peter. Maya has a cynical personality and mostly only thinks of her weight and drugs: whether she’s trying to score or is contemplating getting sober, heroin is always on her mind. She tries methadone as a replacement drug, contemplates having a baby as a way of fixing her life and works at a bookshop by day.

Maya’s major goal in the novel is to finish her Master’s Thesis so she can graduate. She tells her mother that she’s working on it all the while feeling guilty as her mother is suffering from multiple sclerosis. One of the similarities to Deepti Kapoor’s A Bad Character is the prominence of the Ganges River, Indian culture (of course) and what it means to be a young woman. Sex also plays a huge role in both novels. Sharma is very brave in her depictions of sex: she doesn’t try to sugarcoat reality. She talks about sex in a very real way that is relatable and straightforward. She also deals with what it means to be a non-white girl, to be obsessed with shaving stubborn dark hairs from all areas of a female body and to not be stick-thin.

One of the funniest moments in the novel is when Maya goes with her husband, Peter to visit his family for the holidays. She can’t relate to their Christian-centric ways and is, once again, preoccupied with a longing for heroin. After this visit, it isn’t long before Peter decides that he wants a divorce. Maya and Ogden break up, she loses her job and falls back into the routine of using drugs to cope. After an accidental overdose, Maya is sent to a psychiatric hospital.  It seems like things just keep unraveling in her life. She speaks about her mother’s illness quite a bit at the beginning of the novel as well as her father’s death. She doesn’t really believe in anything after death but is surprisingly hopeful by the end.

In the conclusion of Problems, Sharma gives us a woman who has come out the other end of addiction and loss and is still standing. She bears witness to those who are lonely and depressed but she is incredibly hopeful and knows that life will go on and get better. In the end, after Maya’s ups and downs (but mostly downs), we’re left with an idea that life can be funny and very sad at the same time but, if you’ve got a breath left in your body, it’s mostly hopeful.