Book #21, Love Among the Cannibals, by Wright Morris. Basically a character study of Earl Horter, a lyric writer of "juke box songs." He and his partner Mac pick up two girls--Mac a southern belle, Earl a Greek goddess--and they make a trip to Acapulco, theoretically to work on a low-budget musical set in Mexico that they are writing. It's not about what happens, it's about the four people, and their approach to love, sex, security.
It didn't surprise me that Smock liked it. It also didn't surprise me that I didn't care for it. I found it hot, sticky, and depressing. Love, to the characters in this short novel, didn't mean knowing each other, sacrificing for each other, achieving joint dreams. It was either an overwhelming appetite--that didn't require knowing the other person at all for its satisfaction-- or it was a means of achieving an end. Or it was something that had hurt in the past and so was to be avoided at all costs in the present.
Might be true. Don't want to read about it.
Book #22 was Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. It won the Pulitzer prize in 2000. It's a series of short stories, all with Indian/Pakistani protagonists. Loved her writing. Loved the way she captured the "otherness" of the immigrant, and the mixed blessings of that immigration. The cost when one partner of a couple wants the change and the other one is unsure.
Here's something that captures the flavor, from the short story "Mrs. Sen's":
She had brought the blade from India, where apparently there was at least one in every household. "Whenever there is a wedding in the family," she told Eliot one day, "or a large celebration of any kind, my mother sends out word in the evening for all the neighborhood women to bring blades just like this one, and then they sit in an enormous circle on the roof of our building, laughing and gossiping and slicing fifty kilos of vegetables through the night." Her profile hovered protectely over her work, a confetti of cucumber, eggplant, and onion skins heaped around her. "It is impossible to fall asleep those nights, listening to their chatter." She paused to look at a pine tree framed by the living room window. "Here, in this place where Mr. Sen has brought me, I cannot sometimes sleep in so much silence."
Another day she sat prying the pimpled yellow fat off chicken part, then dividing them between thigh and leg. As the bones cracked apart over the blade her golden bangles jostled, her forearms glowed, and she exhaled audibly through her nose. At one point she paused, gripping the chicken with both hands, and stared out the window. Fat and sinew clung to her fingers.
"Elliot, if I began to scream right now at the top of my lungs, would someone come?"
"Mrs. Sen, what's wrong?"
"Nothing. I am only asking if someone would come."
Eliot shrugged. "Maybe."
"At home that is all you have to do. Not everybody has a telephone. But just raise your voice a bit, or express grief or joy of any kind, and one whole neighborhood and half of another has come to share the news, to help with arrangements."
None of the stories are particularly happy, but the characters in them love something--wives, husbands, family, home. And therein lies the sadness--when what one loves is taken away. Or if they don't love something, that's part of the tragedy. It's a whole different feel from the emptiness of Morris' Cannibals.