I don’t often read collections of short stories. I probably never would have picked this book up if my 2015 reading challenge hadn’t required me to read a Pulitzer Prize winner. I couldn’t find my copy of Middlesex, and the only edition I have of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is in Spanish, so I was at a loss. I’m trying to cut down my book-buying habit, so I asked my mom if she owned any Pulitzer Prize winners. She did! This one!
I was pleasantly surprised. Of course, I’d heard good things about Lahiri. An author doesn’t get to be a Pulizer Prize winner without some amount of publicity. But I really had no idea what kind of books she wrote or what I was getting myself into. I didn’t even know this was a collection of short stories until I started reading it.
The first one, A Temporary Matter, made me sob. That’s when I knew that I was in for a good experience. Do you know how many books have made me sob over the years? No more than a handful. The story of a couple grieving their stillborn child while telling each other secrets by candlelight – easily the best of the bunch.
My next favorite was probably Sexy, the story of a mistress who, upon babysitting a strangely perceptive young boy, realizes that her lover does not actually love her.
Rounding out my top three would be Interpreter of Maladies: a hired driver tells a rich couple of his “real” job – a medical interpreter. The wife becomes enamored with the idea that the patients’ lives are in this man’s hands; after all, if he were to interpret their symptoms incorrectly, they would not get the correct treatments. Over the course of the trip, the driver falls for the wife and his perfect idea of her, only to find that she’s as imperfect and human as anybody else.
This is not the kind of book that you power through. I read one or two stories at a time, often taking a break of several hours in between. The stories stick with you. They weigh on you. They’re not happy stories; in fact, most of them have rather sad, disappointing endings. But these are not the kind of stories that would work with happy endings. For the most part, they’re brief windows into the lives of unhappy people.
My takeaway from this book? A reminder to be kind. You never know what’s going on behind the scenes in someone else’s life.
For my 2015 reading challenge, I’m crossing off #18: a Pulitzer Prize winner.