A novel about a heroin addict shouldn’t be this much fun to read ... Sharma counteracts these dark problems with Maya’s funny, quirky, clever narrative style ... if you’re going to write a novel of thoughts, this is how to do it ... The book’s vulgarity is deeply and powerfully feminist.
Problems is hypnotic and dank, an intimate gurgle from a person to whom you have become so endeared you decode it. And you know it’s beautiful ... Sharma gives readers the chance to dwell in the confrontational hailstorm that is Maya’s inner life, the thoughts she thinks that she can’t allow to escape her, in which she inadvertently reveals to herself what her problems really are ... a powerful, pitiless, razor-sharp ally that readers can take with them as they move through this fucked up world.
Maya, who tells her story mostly in the first person but occasionally the second, is both faultlessly honest and consistently deceitful. She lies, but tells us ... It’s not that Maya is malevolent; it’s that being a liar is part of the job description of being an addict. And also that, yeah, sometimes it’s just better to say your dad is alive to avoid questions about why he isn’t. But at the same time, a big part of this novel’s power is its injection of frankness ... The sex is unflinching ... Maya isn’t likable ... but she is smart, can be caring, and is deeply funny ... For a book dealing with issues and called Problems, Sharma’s debut is strangely uplifting. It leaves you on a high.
It’s a law of 'addiction lit' that what gets high must come crashing down, and stories like this that begin at a low point find a lower one. The turns are all here: rehab, relapse, recovery. The first two are handled with verve. The third is done in the second person, future tense—a voice I only want to hear on the hypnotist’s couch, and even there I find it ineffective. These final few passages are meant perhaps to subvert the inspirational mode, the message that when it can’t get worse it gets better, but Sharma sounds bored by her own discovery, which is that wellness is as repetitive as addiction ... A better idea, in Problems, is the late embrace of pain as a side effect of living.
Sharma paints Maya’s spiraling life in raw, sharp-edged, almost confrontational language ... Maya’s addiction cycle, and her attempts at breaking it, structure the novel. It’s the plot, such as it is, and it can be both hypnotically compelling and somewhat listless, as one might expect ... A psychologically astute portrait of a woman’s cycle of addiction, the ebb and flow of her life around it, and her own hilarious, bittersweet and brilliant inner monologue through it all.
Problems doesn’t read as a shallow portrayal or sensational narrative of addiction. It’s real ... Even though there is a plot in Problems, what keeps you reading is the character development. The point of Problems is not to turn each page in hurried anticipation, to but glide through them gleefully because you want to see what shit Maya will say next ... Sharma doesn’t minimize the problems a drug addict can face. Instead, she turns the social perception of addicts as totally fucked-up and irredeemable losers into a story of how we respond to our perplexing problems.
Maya is an intelligent, opinionated, insecure, hilarious personality. Her life is unstable in such a way that all the author has to do is pull one string to make her whole existence unravel ... A happy ending doesn’t seem right so let’s say Problems doesn’t wholly have one. Maya rebuilds her life but she isn’t there for it; in the final pages the narration switches to second-person present-tense. Not the first time Maya disappears from her own story, but one gathers that it might be the last.
Problems is dominated by one key attribute of Maya’s: her unflinching bluntness. She lays everything out there regardless of conventional ugliness level, from dope-sick bowel movements to the painfully awkward denouement of her one-sided extramarital affair ... While much of Problems is about the demon of addiction and the contrasting types of obstacles Maya must face while high vs. while sober, the novel also captures the raw details of a turning point in someone’s life.