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Smoke and Mirrors: An Interview with Sumita Mukherji

Interview by Gary Fincke (Read the Story) March 19, 2018

Sumita Mukherji

Photograph by Ryoji Iwata

One of the things I admire most about “Lifeline” is how, in such a short time, the lifeline image is made complex—the obvious reference to time, but also to distance and pain. Talk a little about what drew you to working with this image.

I have a Bengali American cultural background, and growing up, I would hear a lot about astrology and palmistry, and how these fields played a part in my parents’ (successful) marriage, and how they might play a part in my own life. Of course I took these fields with a grain of salt—I’m not a fatalist—but the image of relatives trying to deduce their futures from their lifelines stuck with me. I wondered what it would be like to write the character of this mother, who is a bit of a fatalist, and who also feels conflicted (and in pain) about what fate has brought to her marriage. Using the lifeline was also a way to explore the depth of her pain and her efforts at relief.

What makes this work so well is using the point of view of the child. How did you come to seeing this situation through her eyes?

Palmistry is a fascinating, funny thing, and a child being introduced to the idea of fate when she is just old enough to be conscious of life, to be asking questions about what makes up life, drew me in. What would Pia make of her mother’s puzzling behavior? How does it fit in to her story of life? These were the questions that guided me as I wrote Pia’s character.

Did you ever consider writing past where this ends? If so, where to?

I didn’t, but that’s an interesting idea. As I was writing this piece, the ending image of the mother floating out to sea came to me, and it was something to write toward. If I were to continue Pia’s story, I think she would be haunted by that last image of her mother for the rest of her life. It would be the sort of image that would enter her dreams, nightmares, and reveries.

And in case I haven’t asked “the question” you wish I had—what might that be and how come?

I have not so much another question, but another answer: I see the magical realism-inspired ending as one that makes sense for Pia, who would not be able to put her mother’s complicated situation and her feelings about it into words. The imagery tells the story that Pia can’t yet tell (and may never be able to).

About the Author

Sumita Mukherji’s work has appeared in Monkeybicycle, Bluestem Review, and Ocean State Review. She has an MFA in fiction writing from Warren Wilson College, and in 2016 her fiction was supported by a Bread Loaf scholarship. She is working on a novel.

About the Interviewer

Gary Fincke’s latest collection of stories A Room of Rain is just out from West Virginia University.  A novel How Blasphemy Sounds to God was published in 2014 by Braddock Avenue Books.  An earlier collection Sorry I Worried You won the Flannery O’Connor Prize and was published by Georgia.  He is the Charles Degenstein Professor of Creative Writing at Susquehanna University.

About the Artist

Find more of Ryoji Iwata‘s photography on Unsplash.

This interview appeared in Issue Fifty-Nine of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Fifty-Nine
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