Jhumpa Lahiri’s short story, "Sexy," is the most provocative title of the short stories listed on the One Story Magazine’s Favorite Short Story List. They published their top ten favorite short stories, along with an additional twenty-six stories to flush out the “long list,” and I’m reading and reviewing each of them over the summer. This story "Sexy" intercuts two stories about extramarital affairs that comes to reveal what the term sexy means. The story starts:
It was a wife’s worst nightmare.
Miranda’s co-worker Laxmi is continually updating Miranda about her cousin, who has been left by her husband for a younger woman. Miranda keeps hearing parts of this story while keeping her own secret, she has started having an affair herself.
Laxmi details how her cousin’s husband is leaving her for a young woman in London, and how her cousin hasn’t gotten out of bed since learning the news. The cousin’s son hasn’t been to school for the past week.
Meanwhile, Miranda met her lover in a Filene’s. Dev spends every day with Miranda while his wife is away on a trip. He buys her flowers, they go to movies and to dinner each night. At one point, as they visit the Mapparium, Dev whispers to Miranda, “You’re sexy.”
Miranda feels the shift occur as Dev’s wife returns to the States. “While Dev was at the airport, Miranda went to Filene’s Basement to buy herself things she thought a mistress should have.”
Of course, the intensity of the affair cools off. Dev tells his wife he is going to run along the Charles River on Sunday mornings, but instead sees Miranda. He shows up in sweatpants and only stays a short time each week.
As the story progresses, Laxmi’s cousin and her young son come to visit Boston and Laxmi asks Miranda to watch the boy for a day. The boy is precocious, and asks personal questions of Miranda. He finds Miranda’s slinky cocktail dress that she has bought to play the role of the mistress, but now she never wears it since Dev only comes over for a quickie once a week.
The boy asks Miranda to put the dress on. An odd request, but she is kind of bemused and flustered and so she does. “You are sexy,” the boy tells her. She is taken back that the boy would use this word. She asks him to define sexy and he does so, as a child whose father has left his mother, would. But his response reveals a larger truth about what the word sexy means and how it’s interpreted in our culture today.
Jhumpa Lahiri’s story "Sexy" appears in Interpreter of Maladies, her first short story collection.