i read a book! i read a book!

Just in the nick of time for my book club that actually reads the books, I finished Jhumpa Lahiri’s short story collection Unaccustomed Earth last night.  Usually when I finish a book, it is out of sight, out of mind–an ability that comes in handy when I want to reread Persuasion for the umpteenth time.  This collection of short stories, however, has been absolutely bothering me ever since I began reading it.

First of all, let’s get Durham County Library’s placement of the barcode over Ms. Lahiri’s face out of the way.

003

I’m sure the author is an absolutely lovely person, but Durham’s finest have ensured that I will never know.  Either the person doing the intake of books has a fabulous sense of humor and wants my reaction to the short stories to be unsullied by the author’s intelligent gaze or the employee is simply haphazardly slapping barcodes on the backs of hundreds of books at a time.   Hmm, which is it?

The stories themselves, I am afraid, hit too close to home.  Stories about children, moving,  family relationships, career choices, academics.  In every character, you can see traces of yourself and the decisions you did or didn’t make.  The quality for me though that binds these stories together (even more than being tales of children of Indian immigrants) is the quality of holding your breath.  So many of these characters have taken in a breath and are poised on the brink of decisions or are delicately feeling their way forward.  In so many of the stories, I am braced for the absolute worst to happen, and  in some cases it does.  In other stories, I slowly exhale my breath and am amazed at how elated I am by the miracle of someone sending a postcard or a baby happily playing in the tub.

Lahiri’s collection of stories was a downer without being wholly depressing, mundane while being stylish, common while still being breathtaking with its insight.  Or, that’s just my opinion.  Anyone else with a different take?

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