From My Bookshelf: Unaccustomed Earth

Last weekend I finished reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s new story collection, Unaccustomed Earth. Yes, I remembered several of the stories from their first appearances in the New Yorker. Still, there’s enough new here to warrant additional attention. Plus, reading the assembled collection yields a different experience than does reading each story months or even years apart. And frankly, Lahiri’s stories are not infrequently worth rereading.

So I recommmend the book heartily. Here are just a few elements that impressed me:

1) Story endings. It’s no secret that endings are the bane of my life as a fiction writer. I could quote a concluding paragraph from one of the book’s eight stories to try to illuminate why I’m so envious of her talent, but honestly (and I think this is one of the reasons why endings are so hard to teach or analyze), the conclusions grow so well from all that precedes them that I’m not sure a brief snippet would do them justice. Suffice to say that Lahiri knows how to write an ending.

2) Linked stories. The final three stories (“Once in a Lifetime,” “Year’s End,” and “Going Ashore”) are linked by two recurring characters and their families. Each story’s first-person narrator is speaking to the other character (with subtle “you”‘s sprinkled throughout each story). Interesting approach.

3) I’ve now read my share of “9/11 stories” and “Katrina stories.” But this collection presents the first literary allusion to/treatment of the 2004 tsunami that I’ve found.

For more about Lahiri and her new book (and a brief excerpt), see this NPR feature.