by Jhumpa Lahiri
Just out of architecture school, Gogol is working in New York City when he meets Maxine at a party. She's classy, rich, sophisticated – the perfect catch, right? At first, she seems like the answer to all Gogol's troubles, because Maxine fits the type that Gogol seems to be attracted to: she is all-American, she's artistic and sexually uninhibited – in other words, she's the complete opposite of the nice Bengali girl his parents would love him to marry.
When Gogol starts dating Maxine, he is quickly absorbed into the Ratliff household, and Maxine's lifestyle is, in a word, awesome. She lives in a palace of a house, and shops 'til she drops: "He goes shopping with her on Madison Avenue at stores they must be buzzed into, for cashmere cardigans and outrageously expensive English colognes that Maxine buys without deliberation or guilt."(6.48) Maxine has money, but she's not embarrassed by it. Her lavish lifestyle comes as a welcome shock to Gogol, who grew up in much more modest circumstances.
But there is another quality Maxine has that makes her different from what Gogol is used to, and therefore all the more attractive:
She has the gift of accepting her life; as he comes to know her, he realizes that she has never wished she were anyone other than herself, raised in any other place, in any other way. This, in his opinion, is the biggest difference between them, a thing far more foreign to him than the beautiful house she'd grown up in, her education at private schools. (6.50)
Maxine (like Sonia) is comfortable in her own skin. She has no hang-ups about her identity. She is not worried about fitting in. This is a source of attraction for Gogol, but also a source of envy. He has never been so at ease, and he wishes he knew how to be.
Fortunately, with Maxine he is more at ease than he is most of the time. Or at least he is for the majority of their relationship. This is because Maxine and her family represent an escape for Gogol. When he stays with them in New Hampshire, "he remembers that his parents can't possibly reach him: he has not given them the number, and the Ratliffs are unlisted. That here at Maxine's side, in this cloistered wilderness, he is free." (6.140)
Maxine is freedom, sure. But she also represents distance from his family, from his roots. In the end, that's what drives these two lovebirds apart. The closer he gets to Maxine, the farther Gogol travels from his family, and when his dad dies, Maxine becomes a symbol of that distance, and the guilt that comes with it.