hoba and Shukumar are a young Indian couple living somewhere in the west on their quiet street with their quiet lives, she an editor, he still a student. And in the mail comes an announcement that following the last snowstorm the power company wants to firm up their repairs so for the next five nights service will be cut from eight to nine PM.
Sounds innocent enough. The couple continues on their lives, with reflections provided by Shukumar as he considers, without enthusiasm, the state of their marriage. It turns out that some time before Shoba had been pregnant with their first child yet lost it while Shukumar was away on student matters in Boston. By the time he’d returned, he had only to pick up his wife from the hospital. And now their marriage, once vibrant and new as young marriages go, is cold and lifeless now.
But nothing gets discussed. Shukumar locates birthday candles and prepares dinner. At 8am, the power goes out. They sit in the dark. And Shoba proposes a game (since she grew up in India with its blackouts (he did not)). They will tell each other something they’d never told before, something new.
And this, as the reader might suppose (or ever hope) will force the couple to focus on their marriage. And it does seem to help; they admit to small crimes, lies and such, opening to each other in the expressionless dark as they never had. And they move towards reconciliation of sorts, painfully digging their way out of the hole they’d dug, the grave of their marriage. And as readers, I suppose we root for them, hoping for the moment they rediscover their love.
The fifth night of outage. The final night. Yet they receive a notice that repairs are complete, that power will remain on. When Shoba comes down, her husband says that they could still “play their game” with the lights off. But no, she replies, she wants the lights on so their faces will be visible for the final round of truths.
And what gets said? Do they recover? Does it all come crashing down?
This is the first story, a wonderful exercise in storytelling, from Jhumpa Lahiri in her collection Interpreter of Maladies, a collection of short stories for which she received the Pulitzer. You’ll have to get it yourself if you want to find out how it all turns out. Me, I’m eagerly seeing what further delights Ms. Lahiri has in store for me in her book. The opener has been wonderful. I can only hope she holds this pace throughout. So, at this point, a strong recommendation. More to follow…