Let me get a word in, before you start telling me how you “just don’t like short stories.”
I know. I feel you. I’ve been there. And you’re wrong.
A few years ago, after 12 hours of graduate-level English classes, I abandoned both my pursuit of an MA degree and the teaching profession that led me back to college. (After all, when pay has been frozen district-wide for two years, one begins to doubt that all the work at night and on weekends will result in the promised pay raise.)
If you ever want to kill the joy you experience in reading, I can recommend nothing more efficient and soul-sucking than graduate studies in English. What they don’t tell you in the course catalog is that “MA in English” is a misnomer; you’re actually getting a degree in criticism. And I’ve made it clear before just what a huge horrible waste of time I find criticism to be.
Anyway, for quite a while after I ran screaming from higher education, I avoided short stories as if they would make my thighs swell. The genre reminded me too much of that time in my life when reading was reduced to a chore and enjoyment was irrelevant. I enjoy literary fiction, but short stories seemed too literary, too lofty, beyond what I was willing to commit to as a layperson.
Then I heard that Alice Munro had won the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature. I found out she writes short stories. And I decided maybe I could dip my toe back in the short story pool. (Just the tip. Just to see how it feels. Name that movie.)
Now, this collection is not by Alice Munro. But when I decided to read short stories again, it was a momentary decision, an impulse, and I needed to indulge it immediately. I didn’t want to make a trip to the library, and I already had a hardback copy of Lahiri’s book on the shelf in the basement, where it had sat languishing since I bought it at Borders in 2008. (Every time I see a Borders sticker on one of my books, I experience a twinge of nostalgia.) So I trotted downstairs and retrieved it. And I remembered that I actually do like short stories! And I bet you do too.
One note of caution: this particular collection of stories fits a pattern I find to be generally true, which is they are a bit on the melancholy side. For whatever reason, the genre tends to lend itself to reflective, somewhat despondent tones. So if you’re in a place where that kind of reading isn’t good for you, save this one til later. I mean, there is redemption here, but it’s subtler than Cinderella riding off on the back of Prince Charming’s horse, mmkay?
One last thing I have to mention just because of the sheer ridiculousness of it: I have seen several reviews of this book in which readers complained that Lahiri writes almost exclusively about Bengalis, with the implied criticism that this somehow makes all of her characters the same. (I’ll wait here while you laugh hysterically at the ignorance and ethnocentrism.) I bet Dickens got that complaint all the time. “Stop writing about all these white people, man! I can’t keep them straight! They’re all too alike!”
Bottom line: read this book, and don’t be a small-minded racist.