Few authors are able to move me the way Jhumpa Lahiri does. Her words are simple; her language neither fancy nor elegant. Yet she is somehow able to capture the essence of everyday existence in each story who writes. “A Temporary Matter” is the first piece in her Pulitzer Prize winning short story collection The Interpreter of Maladies. In this story she provides us with a poignant yet eloquent depiction of couple’s unraveling relationship. Lahiri relays Shoba and Shukumar’s story simply and without judgement; it just is. For me, this is the mark of a good story, and especially a good short story, where unlike a novel, the author has only a few scant pages to create something beautiful, relevant and believable all at once, and all without ramming a moral or obviously biased viewpoint down the reader’s throat. Lahiri succeeds on all counts, telling us a beautiful tale that is painfully familiar on multiple levels. Then simply and without any fuss, she leaves her readers to process the story on their own, without further direction or guidance from her. I personally have always struggled with constructing succinct, well-written conclusions, be it in MA level essays or a short e-mail to a friend, so perhaps it is small wonder that one of my favourite things about Lahiri’s writing style is her ability to conclude her stories with an elegant, well-stated final phrase of few words that rolls of the tongue in perfect cadence, and in one tidy sentence both summarizes her story and queues the reader’s own interpretation of the tale. I see her title The Interpreter of Maladies as a metaphor for the reader of the her collection as a whole. In each story, Lahiri presents us with a kind of human malady, but rather than solving the problem for us, she allows her reader to interpret these maladies of their own accord. We do not know if she sides with Shoba or Shukumar; we do not know if either party is more or less to blame for the disintegrating marriage. We are not even told whether or not a troubled marriage is a good or a bad thing; it might be either depending on the reader’s own biases and perspective. We are only presented with the malady and the emotions and circumstances surrounding that malady and then allowed to interpret it as we see most fit.
“They wept together, for the things they now knew.”