Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Lahiri is a writer who knows the value of restraint. Although there are a great many realistic details in her fiction, none of them is gratuitous. When she describes the narrator’s room at the YMCA in “The Third and Final Continent,” for example, she mentions the cot, the desk, the cross on the wall, and the sign on the door to the effect that cooking is not permitted. Outside the window, which has no curtains, there is a steady stream of noisy traffic. The room that the narrator rents in Mrs. Croft’s house is described much more fully. For instance, instead of a cot, it has a twin bed. The walls are papered, there is a rug on the floor, and it has both a closet and a bathroom. Again, the author leads the narrator to the window, which, unlike that in the YMCA, has curtains. Outside, he sees a backyard and two fruit trees. The reason for using so many details in the description of this room is to point out how inferior the other one was and to suggest that the narrator expects to be much happier in his new lodgings.

Lahiri is just as restrained and just as effective when she describes the inner lives of her characters. For example, all that the narrator of “The Third and Final Continent” remembers about the bride he left in India is the cold cream on her face, her braided hair, and her constant weeping. From that recollection, Lahiri has her narrator move immediately to the memory of his mother’s final days. The author leaves it to the reader to understand why the two women have become linked in her character’s mind. Similarly, she does not have him consciously contrast his mother with that other widow, Mrs. Croft; again, it is enough that he is inspired by the American woman’s courage.

“The Third and Final Continent” demonstrates that Lahiri has the technical skill of a far more experienced writer. That skill, along with her originality and her insight into human nature, earned her a Pulitzer Prize for her first book, Interpreter of Maladies: Stories (1999). “The Third and Final Continent” was one of the stories included in that collection.