Chukwuebuka Ibeh’s Note on Craft
As part of the Notes On Craft series, I (Olakunle Ologunro) reached out to a number of writers and asked them to share a piece of work that is most significant to them, and what they think other writers can learn from it.
It was a boy’s greatest find, like finally striking gold just on the verge of giving up after endlessly digging. I discovered Jhumpa Lahiri through her short story ‘Sexy’ from the collection ‘Interpreter of Maladies’ on one of those languid weekday evenings at my campus hostel in first year. At the time, to combat boredom, I had been on a mission to read any available short stories online. Some of them were good, some not so much, but very few struck me like ‘Sexy’, which I had ironically dismissed in my mind as vain erotica. “It was a woman’s worst nightmare…,” the first line read, and thus began a moving and intimate portrayal of a woman’s contention with unnamed yearnings, while in an entanglement with a married man. It is Jhumpa’s unwillingness to (subtly) establish opinions, her ability to create real and realistic dialogue, and her compassionate and tender storytelling that elevates the narrative to a level of art.
I think what readers and writers alike can take away from ‘Sexy’, and from Ms. Lahiri’s writing in general, is the lightness of her touch in crafting the story, but most importantly the full dignity she ascribes to each character, even the most insignificant of them. It is also her ability to make a mountain out of a molehill, in this sense, utilizing something otherwise irrelevant and making such a grand gesture from it. In ‘Sexy,’ for instance, a little boy whom Miranda, the lead character, was babysitting, tells her ‘Sexy means loving someone you don’t know’. On the surface, and stripped of context, the statement appears meaningless, but it ultimately forms the rock of the whole story, and Miranda’s latter decision to take the reins of her own life.
The ingenuity embedded in ‘Sexy’ is replicated in all of Jhumpa’s work. Since ‘Sexy’, I have long become a fan, reading everything of hers I could find, and coming off each read with the same sense of wonder and admiration at her craft. I like to think that I discovered Ms. Lahiri in 2017, and my life never remained the same.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chukwuebuka Ibeh is a Nigerian writer. His short stories have appeared in McSweeneys, Clarion Review, Charles River Journal and The New England Review of Books.