Jhumpa Lahiri won the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Prize and the Pulitzer Prize for her first collection of short stories, Interpreter of Maladies. After her successful debut novel, The Namesake, Lahiri has come out with a second collection called Unaccustomed Earth.
Unaccustomed Earth is a beautiful group of long short stories that once again focuses on interrelationships and the emotional dramas of domestic life. What I most admire about this work, and Lahiri's work in general, is that she has given herself (and earned) the right to explore a quiet and compelling avenue of writing that doesn't give in to the pressures set upon other writers to have a hook or a platform. Hook! Platform! Whenever I read about getting published or go to agent and publisher panels, everyone says we have to have a hook and a platform. But, Lahiri manages to make a name for herself by sticking to the classic techniques of writing stories about people and life and leaving it at that. This point is made much more clearly in the article, "The Confident Artist" by Boris Kachka in New York Books. Her hook is that she doesn't have a hook. Her platform is that she is who she is. I so admire Lahiri's willingness to write sincerely and explore her characters' lives in a very organic way that sometimes results in a dramatic climax and sometimes doesn't.
Because, actually, some of these stories that are filled with emotion end very quietly, almost boringly. Reading this work gives me the feeling of following peoples' lives to a place that is either interesting or not as interesting, just as life is sometimes interesting and not interesting. Lahiri once said that each short story was an experiment for her. She doesn't know how they're going to end. What's beautiful is that this collection seems to have both those stories that ended well and those that sort of receded, and this diversity gives more insight into Lahiri's writing than her previous work does. Readers can start to understand how she thinks and how she delves into her subject matter without forcing anything. Even in her last story, which ends in a way that most writers would tell you not to end a story, Lahiri manages to create a perfectly natural circumstance that doesn't feel artificial or overly dramatic. This book is exquisite, and I expect even greater things from her in the future.