Interpreter of Maladies, absolutely killed me. Talk about announcing your presence with authority, this story, titled "A Temporary Matter," is absolutely heart-wrenching — a theme-setter for most of the rest of the collection.
The story is about a young-ish married couple in the midst of one of those long lulls that plagues every relationship — but this one is a result of a tragedy. They'd recently had a child die soon after birth, and now both have retreated into themselves and their routines. Then, a breakthrough: A nightly hour-long power outage gives them occasion to talk again, to reconnect, and they begin sharing secrets they'd never revealed before. At first, these are harmless, mundane, almost humorous — but they soon become more consequential. Ostensibly, this secret-sharing brings them closer — but we soon learn the wife had a very different reason for re-building her ability to share than the husband does. And, as I said, the conclusion is just numbing. It really laid me out.
And again, this story sets the tone for many of the other stories about marital problems and the consequences of not communicating, or of keeping secrets. The title story is about a wife who shares a sordid secret with a tour guide while on vacation in India. Another story "Sexy" is about a young woman who has an affair with a married Indian man, all the while hearing one of her co-workers complaining about her cousin whose husband left her to take up with a younger woman. It's an incredible story about how difficult empathy is sometimes, and how we often willfully ignore consequences of bad things we do until we have full and terrible understanding of how they affect others.
Another of my favorites in the collection is titled "This Blessed House." I'm not sure if this story is supposed to be funny, but I thought it was. It's about a newly married couple who move into a new house. As they clean and paint, they keep finding Christian relics — like posters and prayer cards — hidden (or just forgotten about) all over the house. The wife — whose name is Twinkle — is a bit flighty, and loves the novelty of the items, and wants to display them prominently (in some sense, ironically) all over the house. But the straight-laced husband hates this idea, and starts to wonder — especially during the couple's housewarming party — whether he's made the right decision with this marriage.
Again, this collection was Lahiri's first book, published in 1999. And, sadly for me, it's the last of her published work I've gotten to read. I won't cliche and say I saved the best for last (I'm still sorting it all out, but I think The Lowland is my favorite of her four published works), but I really loved most of this collection. These are stories that hit you right in the feelings.