Low Point

20131218-124945.jpgI received a lot of news about Jhumpa Lahiri’s new novel, The Lowland. Her short stories from The Interpreter of Maladies left strong images in our heads and lead to her winning the Pulitzer.

Unfortunately, in my opinion, her collection of short stories was the pinnacle of her success. Once I started reading this novel, I thought, “She’s better at writing short stories.”

Once again, we have a narrative centered around Bengali Indians. This time, the story spans from the middle of the 20th century to the present. Two brothers in North Calcutta share a strong fraternal bond, yet socio-political issues in India’s birth as an independent nation divide the boys. Education leads one brother across the world, and the other remaining in India. Over time, there are marriages, tragic deaths, and disjointed families.

The major problem with this novel is that it’s too much summary, too much general information that is never put into focus. A reader can accept jumping ahead several years, but there aren’t many specific events that are examined, moments where time slows down, and events happen beat by beat. I wondered if Lahiri was terrified about writing dialogue, since it rarely popped up. There were many events that I had wished had been developed, made into a crisp scene, one where the imagery and moments would reverberate in my head for a few days. Instead, things felt glossed over in order to move onto the end.

While reading Lahiri’s novel, I felt it had a similar dissonant tone as Jeanette Wall’s The Silver Star novel. Both are examples of extremely talented writers working in a form that doesn’t deliver. Perhaps publishers are more than happy to sell their books because of their name. Personally, I won’t pick up another Lahiri book, unless it’s a collection of short stories.

 

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