There’s a certain quality about Jhumpa Lahiri’s short stories. For want of a better word, I’ll call it tension.
It is not the fear-laced tension of a well-told ghost story or the sexual tension of a romantic novella. Nor is it the tension that comes from reading a truly great novel of ideas, the kind that turns your world upside down.
No, Jhumpa Lahiri’s tension is of a more earthly kind. It thrives upon the most basic unit of human society, the relationship. It entertains the reader, yet makes him feel uneasy. There are no grand flourishes in her writing style. Her sentences don’t evoke wonder the way Fitzgerald’s, Nabokov’s or even Kiran Desai’s do. Yet, her writing contains an astonishing understanding of the human condition and of the extraordinary potential for disquietude, contradiction and waste when two distinct beings interact for a long time. You read her for a while and slowly you fall under the power of the mundane. Everything is subtle, indeed subliminal, but the effect is a powerful one. Or is it just me?