Out-of-work actors may stoop low, but no one has hugged the gutter like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the Pakistani American hero of Imad Rahman’s hilarious debut story collection, I Dream of Microwaves. Kareem began his career playing a bad guy on America’s Most Wanted, but he can’t do one-dimensional evil, so he winds up in some unconventional productions. One such part involves being his ex-girlfriend’s Bosnian fiancé—she needs a man to come home with her and out-martyr her sister’s new beau, who is black.
In fact, everyone in Microwaves is acting, and Rahman reinforces this bleak view of human relations by having his cast overlook this small detail. Kareem repeats lines by Marlon Brando or Martin Sheen when he should be expressing original emotion. In “Real, Actual Life,” he and a femme fatale play collection agents tracking down a stolen rental copy of Forrest Gump from a man who claims he’s a Bollywood producer. “This is not a script,” Kareem says to his counterpart when they reach an intimate moment. “There’s some real actual life going on here.” Too bad that line comes from Sidney Lumet’s Network.
Once you get the hang of Rahman’s conceit, Microwaves feels somewhat overnuked. Kareem awakens hungover, fields a zany job request—for a dog walker, Zima promoter, radioactive medical patient—and then Rahman lets fly. His prose has a slaphappy cadence that is at once addictive and annoying. After a few stories, you want Kareem to calm down and stop being so clever. But he knows no other way to live. “Everything is material,” he says. The result? “I couldn’t think of anything that didn’t sound like a talk show monologue.” Lines like this make one hope this collection is an act too.