In Whereabouts, we are introduced to the narrator, a single woman in her mid-forties who is a writer and professor, an astute observer of life around her. With each brief chapter, she shares with us a glimpse of this life, a series of sometimes ordinary, sometimes unsettling experiences that range from a visit to the shore for a friend’s baby’s christening to a trip to the local stationary store that has, to her acute disappointment, suddenly been repurposed as a luggage store. Woven through these stories is an undertone of a guilty resentment toward her aging mother, for feeling criticized all her life for being who she is and for being who she is not.
There are many fascinating aspects of the way Lahiri has chosen to approach the writing of this novel. Leaving her narrator without a name, for example, universalizes her character – potentially makes her the everywoman of her age and circumstance. She may speak for the middle-aged woman, mulling on her past while contemplating her future.
She is admired by the young and by her peers for her uncluttered independence, but yet she simmers with inner rage. Her mother who is now small and frail looms large and loud in her memory, the ancient critical and jarring comments from her past playing on repeat in her mind, as if they are being uttered today still. It is impossible to forgive but so hard to live with this resentment too.
She participates in groups of friend gatherings, but reports on them as if from afar. She is with them but not of them. It feels as if her rage prevents her from truly connecting to anyone beyond the surface and she cannot overcome this. There is contemplation without real insight, or so it feels. Does this come from the narrator herself or from the fact that she speaks to us through vignettes as opposed to telling us a linear story? Is this disconnect intentional?
And so the telling is as unique as the character herself, which makes for an original, contemplative, and, apparently, Pulitzer-Prize-winning read.
I’m so curious to hear what others think about this one!