Interpreter of Maladies: A Temporary Matter

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Interpreter of Maladies: A Temporary Matter

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mar 8, 2017, 12:00pm

Here's our discussion thread for the first story in Interpreter of Maladies. What did you think of it? How did the characters strike you?

If you'd like to discuss themes across multiple stories, please feel free to create a new topic (see the "Post a new topic" link on the left-hand side of this page). For folks who've finished reading the whole book ahead of schedule, here's a thread where you can discuss the whole thing:

mar 8, 2017, 12:50pm

I love the fine details of each story, the solid everydayness of it. The reader could be there in the same room. This story is sad, about a wobbly marriage and the loss of a baby. Did the loss of the child cause the marriage to falter or was it going before the birth?

mar 8, 2017, 1:46pm

>2 Rascalstar: It seemed to me like that loss marked a specific point of change for the couple. Like they gave up on each other and their life together at that point. By the end of the story, it was clear that they were both looking for an out, but neither was too keen on breaking the sort of uncomfortable stalemate they'd reached.

I felt like the story was also about blame. The loss of the baby was nobody's fault, but they both needed a place for that blame and anger to go, so they took it out on each other, mostly via passive (/passive aggressive) means.

mar 8, 2017, 10:48pm

The bitterness of both Shoba and Shukumar is quiet obvious from the beginning of the story. Their failure to discuss their pain seems to lead them down a path of depression and non caring.
The darkness that seemed to help them confront their darkest secrets, though temporary, became a bridge that allowed them to cross over into the feelings that seemed to be lost.
It is hard to determine whether Shoba's confession of having gone though with leasing a new place caused within Shukumar fear of losing her or joy at the prospect of no longer having to deal with her. Telling her about seeing the baby felt almost like he was getting revenge for her resenting him for not being at the hospital when she lost the baby.

mar 8, 2017, 11:13pm

It's the unraveling of a marriage, of a relationship in that slow, daily way that happens in real life rather than in the movies. That's what I liked about it.

Also, Lahiri works up to the climax with a slow boil -- slowly revealing the ways that we hide things from each other to avoid, as we might see it, hurting each other and then, how we might reveal things, sometimes, with the explicit aim to hurt another person.

So, a confession. I hadn't realized this till rereading this story because I read it when the book first came out. Last year, I wrote a short story which was published by Amazon's Day One Literary Journal. It's also about a married couple. In mine, they've lost 2 pregnancies and are trying for the third. And, while my characters are entirely different and deal with secrets and lies differently, I see now that Lahiri's story must have stayed with me somewhat. Of course, my writing style is entirely different also.

Redigeret: mar 9, 2017, 2:43am

The inability of this couple to reach out to each other is heartbreaking.
After giving it more thought they seem to be fundamentally not suited.
The story gets inside Shukumar's mind but we are left to speculate about Shoba's thoughts.
The key moment for me is whenShoba comes home from the hospital and destroys their joint possessions.

mar 9, 2017, 7:13am

I liked the suggestiveness of the title. For a while it seemed that they might be able to repair their relationship but the gulf turned out to be much more resilient. Lahiri's prose was lucid yet haunting.

mar 9, 2017, 7:57am

>7 Nadjaa: I thought the same! For a bit in the middle there, it seemed they might have been exploring the possibility of a reconciliation.

I wonder if in their little ritual each night, either one of them expected the other to admit to blaming themselves or each other for the loss. It seemed to be something that went unspoken but understood throughout the story and maybe if one of them had admitted it, they might have been able to work through it.

I loved the story, it was a strong opener. Might be my favorite of the three.

mar 9, 2017, 12:32pm

>6 Divasin: Yes, I almost wish there'd been a more itemized list of the possessions she collected in that moment. As it was, they seemed to be a bit of a random assortment—just whatever caught her eye and drew her ire.

mar 11, 2017, 10:29am

One of those sad stories of 'if only' they had communicated with each other instead of holding it in. I know people like that (I am married to one who fortunately for us has learned the other way). I read the story almost willing it to end with them seeing and knowing and coming back together, but it was not to be. Also a stark reminder that a miscarriage or still birth is not something to dismiss; both parties are grieving. Since we all grieve differently, its easy to not be on the same page, and its so easy for both partners to sink into that cycle of blame, and how important it is for those around them to support and to listen. Esp to listen.

>6 Divasin: I also thought they were unsuited. Can't remember, does the author indicate how long they were married, how they met? I got the feeling that they didn't know each other all that well.

mar 11, 2017, 11:12am


page 10/11 "their first meeting, four years earlier at a lecture.."

and from page 15/16 "Shoba had cooked him a ten-course dinner just for him"
for their first anniversary.

All Shukumar can do is whine to a bartender about receiving a sweater vest for their third anniversary.

page nos. from my e-book

Redigeret: mar 11, 2017, 4:42pm

>11 Divasin: Thanks. I read these a while back, and remember the basic stories. Haven't had a chance to reread so appreciate the reminder.

mar 12, 2017, 10:29pm

I liked Lahiri's style. This first story seemed to flow smoothly while at the same time catching us up on the history of these two people. I appreciated the fine attention to detail. To be honest, in retrospect, the game of disclosing information to each other feels contrived to support the storytelling, but while I was reading the story, it didn't feel that way.

I'm not a big fan of contemporary slice-of-life fiction, but I found the story engaging enough to finish. The characters felt real, although I didn't find myself wanting to know more about them. I generally like stories better if I feel I was entertained or I feel I learned something about life in the way that fiction does best. I didn't feel that either had happened for me. I was left not really understanding how their relationship got to where it was. Not every relationship where a miscarriage occurs ends in a breakup, so what made it happen here? I would have liked to have learned and understood that. As it was I thought I understand a bit of where Shukumar was, but for me Shoba was a blank unfathomable character.

When a book is so acclaimed as to have won a Pulitzer prize, I feel like I should keep looking until I find what remarkable thing about a book warranted such an award. Maybe I will need to read more of the stories before a "get" what makes the book remarkable. In the meantime, I'll look forward to the clear and detailed writing of Lahiri's next story.

Redigeret: mar 12, 2017, 10:37pm

>3 lorannen: Interesting take. I got something different. I felt while Shoba was trying to find a way to break away, Shukumar was trying to find a way to reconnect. And the fact that he seemed to respond in an accepting way by telling her what he knew she never wanted to know (about the son), underneath it all he'd known it was ending. The reasons I say this a few. The fact that he spent time coming up with what story to tell the next night, the fact he went out to buy better candles, that he was disappointed when the power was restored early. He'd seen the game as a possible way to reconnect.

But that's the nature of stories like this. When things are spelled out, readers are free to read between the lines and not everyone will read it the same way.

mar 12, 2017, 11:15pm

>13 GwenH:: The reason Shoba appears somewhat blank and unfathomable, I think, is that we are seeing her through Shukumar's point of view in the story. There are other clues to her behavior and mindset, however, that we, as readers, need to look for closely. Our interpretations will still vary, based on our own experiences, beliefs, and biases.

I read mostly literary realism and, when done well, as Lahiri has here, it makes me think, question my own biases and preconceived notions. Usually, though, this requires a closer reading than with other fictional genres. But, the payoff, for me, is always worth it.

Redigeret: mar 12, 2017, 11:31pm

Jenny, I agree with much of what you say. Ive read and studied my share of literary fiction. Certainly pov plays a role. However I was more going on what we know and even knowing clues from the story I still found her a puzzling and unsympathetic character to react to miscarriage by not even wanting to know the sex or anything about the miscarried child. We are told enough, I just didn't form the same conclusion about the husband and I stated my reasons from the story why.

mar 13, 2017, 12:40am

A Temporary Matter was so sad. I really thought their marriage had a chance.

mar 13, 2017, 12:52am

>16 GwenH:: Fair enough. We will definitely read the story differently -- which is the great thing about stories like this. I'm sure I will see it differently myself when/if I reread a few years later. :)

I saw Shoba's response to the trauma as clinical dissociation -- a sort of numbness, detachedness, etc., to defend against more hurting. That shutting-out included her relationship with Shukumar and her not wanting to know more about the baby.

mar 13, 2017, 3:27pm

>16 GwenH: That is common with some women; its a defence against pain. (oh just saw >18 jennybhatt: said the same) People in grief often do the same, and are seen as cold and unfeeling by those around them, which is so wrong, because mourners need to know that its normal to feel this way and that others will be there for them.

Redigeret: mar 13, 2017, 3:53pm

>19 cindydavid4: yes I know people do that and look that way to those around them. That is pretty much my point. Here's a story where we have the opportunity to see what is behind such a mask and as far as I can tell, we get no clue. I appreciate stories that I feel I understand something better for having read them, this story just painted a picture. That's just my reaction, your mileage may vary.