Monday, Nov. 03, 2008

Unaccustomed Earth Jhumpa Lahiri

Lahiri's first story collection, Interpreter of Maladies, won the Pulitzer and earned her a devoted audience. It also set the bar sky-high for any stories that might follow. Somehow, with her second collection, Unaccustomed Earth, she clears it. Lahiri is on familiar ground here — writing in finely tuned, hypnotically even sentences about Bengali families finding their way in America — but she stretches out, literally, into longer, more complex narratives. The title story and the masterful "Hell-Heaven" establish themes of quietly splintering families and thwarted passion; from there the collection builds in intensity to the triptych "Hema and Kaushik," whose final installment brings together two star-crossed lovers, then cruelly tears them apart.