This won't be a usual review but more of a personal reflection. The reason is that I recently read some reviews and comments of a GR friend ( Aubrey
) who recently read 'The Namesake' by Lahiri and found it to be nothing special and she cited some pretty good reasons to support her case. Then I thought about the two books of Lahiri that I have - both short story collections - and why I had rated them 5 stars each. This is what happens when you feel in sync with such GR friends that they can make you question your own assessment and analysis... and this is the reason I love GR and spend way too much time on it.
I have often held a copy of 'The Namesake' in my hands at bookstores when it was on sale or available cheaply as a secondhand book, yet I never felt compelled to buy it. Especially after I sifted through it and read a few passages at random. It felt no different than her short stories in terms of style and voice, that I then thought why would I read a book of almost 300 pages when I can read a short story of 25 pages with an even better impact. And this got me thinking as to why I've been wanting to change my rating for Unaccustomed Earth for a while now. You see, I needed to justify my reasoning changing it from 5 stars to 4 and from 4 to 3, and here's why.
Lahiri comes across as a master of the short story craft... focus on the last word: craft. This, to me, is both her blessing and her curse. There is no doubt her style is that of someone who has completed an MFA in the USA (funny, that rhymes!) and is most likely why the technical aspects of her short stories are more or less flawless. But that's the technical aspect, which most MFA graduates from good programs in the USA seem to accomplish equally well, but what about the creative aspect?
Sure the 'Interpreter of Maladies' was 'new', at least for my generation at the time it was published, and it was a fantastic compilation of well-crafted stories and the immigrant's tale who's trying to fit in in a new host country. It was a theme done often but represented in a fresh new package. 'Unaccustomed Earth' unfortunately just repeats more of the same, with one difference, the stories are longer. And that is not a good thing. Repetition all round, from one collection to another and, within each collection. The same themes, the same style, the same voices. Nothing new, nothing creative, no experimentation, no out-of-the-box thinking.
It is for this reason that I have downgraded this book from 5 to 3 stars. The stories themselves - I repeat - are really well executed, but that's all the praise they'll get from me. I still keep my 5 star rating for 'Interpreter of Maladies' because (despite the repetition in it), it was fresh and it was her first collection (which is quite impressive) and the stories there were 'tight' - the right length with all aspects of each story well-rounded and finely written. However, playing it safe isn't for me and one book of the same is enough, two is overkill.