Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Booksellers worth their salt must often translate patron requests from gibberish into actual titles. The herd has heard of a tome on NPR and they excitedly engage the nearest Info Counter drone, unable to recall the title/author/subject matter/genre (while somehow knowing the color of the book's cover). For a year I was beset by requests for The Interstellar Manganese, The Interrupted Mango Leaves, The Interesting Malarkies, or for "that book of short stories by an Indian," as if there were only one such collection. I managed to deliver Jhumpa Lahiri to dozens of these breathless folk when The Interpreter of Maladies was hot, all the while not reading her, and now I'd like to deliver a few dozen more.
These short stories were worth the wait (worth their weight in gold!). Lahiri writes with remarkable confidence and dexterity--her style is economical but by no means sparse, her descriptions vivid and precise to a masterful degree. The tales build slowly to often surprising emotional impact--some of them peak so subtly that their true heft doesn't register until hours later. Her characters are adrift, lonely, alienated: Indians in American are culturally mystified despite academic and career success; young children are troubled by adults and their mysterious ways; men and women are at a loss over relations with the opposite sex. These are mournful, troubling stories of restless people rendered with tender compassion and often humor. I loved it.