Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Review: Life Isn’t This Bad


I have to say, I opened Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth with quite a bit of excitement. Interpreter of Maladies, her first short story collection is perhaps my favorite short story collection of all time (bold, I know). With her second novel, the Namesake, I was frustrated because it seemed like a collection of short stories that was just trying to be a novel. Thus, when I heard she’d produced more stories, albeit longer in length, I was eager to plunge in (though I had to wait for it to hit paperback, as I shun hardcover novels, for better or worse).

First thought – her style of writing hasn’t changed, and it’s a good thing. She has an incredible way of giving every object in her stories some kind of history – a person doesn’t lay their bag on the floor or fill a glass of water without it somehow conveying intimate details of their past – I’ve always admired this about her writing.

The problem? Well, effective as this is, she doesn’t mix it up at all! The entire book, unfolds in almost the exact same patient style, to the point where I was almost longing for short, meaningless spurt of dialogue. Perhaps it’s the Digital Native in me.

Lastly, the thing I really had trouble getting over, is that…well I can’t imagine how terribly her life or the lives of people she loves must have been in order for her to produce this collection of depressing stories. I understand that things don’t always go well, the world doesn’t always turn, but gosh – they don’t always go awfully either! It feels like an odd complaint somehow, but there you are.

A more reasonable complaint perhaps is that…well the flaws in the characters that cause the conflicts appear to always be the same – someone is too traditional and can’t get past it, another character is too unforgiving and unforgetting, a third keeps secrets against all good judgment – then rinse and repeat. I felt like she told the same sad story in six different ways, and by the end, I was happy to get back to sweet, sweet reality.


J.T. Oldfield said…

I quite liked Unaccustomed Earth. I do agree though that she could have changed it up a bit. Something different interspersed throughout the collection might have helped to keep you head above water.

here's my review:


Nihal Parthasarathi said…


I read your review – and I suspect you're totally right – I'm lucky enough to still have both my parents, and so this wasn't nearly as real to me as it probably will be one day.

Good point.

Salvatore said…

Interesting reviews, both. I haven't read anything by Lahiri yet, which is shameful. But my interest is piqued. The one trick pony style of storytelling isn't the worst attribute an author can have, so long as the one trick is pretty damned good.

And Nihal, your comment about 'The Namesake' being stories collected as a novel is dead on. It is frustrating when authors do that. It kind of makes the 'novel' or 'stories' fall flat.

J.T. Oldfield said…

Funny though, if I hadn't gone through what I did, I don't know if I would have felt the same. I suppose by the end, I would have come to the same conclusion you did. I'm not really one for the school of lit crit that takes a reader's life into account, but there you go.