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Likely Stories : Whereabouts, by Jhumpa Lahiri

I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.

Jhumpa Lahiri has released six novels, and her latest, Whereabouts, is an eclectic series of short ruminations anywhere from one to about five pages.  Her stories are lyrical, witty, interesting, with an ability to draw the reader from one story to the next. 


I will begin with the first, “On the Sidewalk.”  Jhumpa writes, “In the mornings after breakfast I walk past a small marble plaque propped against the high wall flanking the road.  I never knew the man who died.  But over the years I’ve come to know his name, his surname.  I know the month and day he was born and the month and day his life ended.  This was a man who died two days after his birthday, in February. // It must have been an accident on his bike or his motorcycle.  Or maybe he was walking at night, distracted.  Maybe he was hit by a passenger car. // He was forty-four when it happened.  I suppose he died in this very spot, on the sidewalk, next to the wall that sprouts neglected plants, which is why the plaque has been arranged at the bottom, at the feet of passersby” (3). 

“On the Street” is a three-pager.  “Now and then on the streets of my neighborhood I bump into a man I might have been involved with, maybe shared a life with.  He always looks happy to see me.  He lives with a friend of mine, and they have two children.  Our relationship never goes beyond a longish chat on the sidewalk, a quick coffee together, perhaps a brief stroll in the same direction.  He talks excitedly about his projects, he gesticulates, and at times as we’re walking our synchronized bodies, already quite close, discreetly overlap” (5). 

“In the Waiting Room” is next.  She writes, “After turning forty-five, after a long and fortunate phase of hardly ever going to the doctor, I grew acquainted with illness.  A series of mysterious pains, odd afflictions that would arise out of the blue and then go away: an abiding pressure behind my eyes, a sharp twinge at my elbow, a portion of my face that seemed to have gone numb for a time.  Scattered round red spots on my abdomen once generated a stubborn itch so persistent I’d had to go to the emergency room.  In the end, all it took was an ointment” (19). 

Lastly, Jhumpa writes, “In Bed.”  This evening as I read in bed, I hear the roar of cars that speed down the road below my apartment.  And the fact of their passing makes me awake of my own stillness.  I can only fall asleep when I hear them.  And when I wake up in the middle of the night, always at the same time, it’s the absolute silence that interrupts my sleep.  That’s the hour when there’s not a single car on the road, when no one needs to get anywhere” (107). 

This charming collection of short-short stories, Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri, deserves 5 Stars! 

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!

Life-long voracious reader, Jim McKeown, is an English Instructor at McLennan Community College. His "Likely Stories" book review can be heard every Thursday on KWBU-FM! Reviews include fiction, biographies, poetry and non-fiction. Join us for Likely Stories every Thursday featured during Morning Edition and All Things Considered with encore airings Saturday and Sunday during Weekend Edition.