‘Only Goodness’ by Jhumpa Lahiri / ‘Evolution of My Brother’ by Jenny Zhang

Lahiri and Zhang write in contrasting styles: Lahiri’s is sparsely elegant and coolly restrained whilst Zhang’s sentences spark and flow with an at times lurid emotionality, a frank and unbridled access to humour and pain. These two stories centre upon difficult brothers and the older sisters who love and come to be hurt and puzzled by them. Both stories arrive at devastation in their own messy, specific ways, but overlap in articulating the genealogy of siblinghood from shared traumas and a mutual understanding of otherness, to the slow-burning heartbreak of estrangement.

‘Only Goodness’ from Unaccustomed Earth, Knopf/Bloomsbury, 2008. Also available as a digital single from Bloomsbury. ‘Evolution of My Brother’ first published in Rookie Mag, 2011. Collected in Sour Heart, Lenny/Bloomsbury 2017

‘A Temporary Matter’ by Jhumpa Lahiri

This is another story about husbands and wives and how they succeed and fail to communicate with each other. I read this at a period in my life when I’d begun to think all relationships between men and women were doomed (this tends to happen when you’re about 25). Like Roberts, Lahiri explores the slowly disintegrating marriage between a South-Indian couple in the USA through the use of ordinary, domestic detail. She shifts subtly between the two perspectives, employing a light-touch on a heavy subject. It’s a beautiful portrait of a couple in crisis that quietly suggests that there are some things that no marriage can overcome.

First published in The New Yorker, April 20, 1998. Collected in The Interpreter of Maladies, Houghton Mifflin/Flamingo, 1999