Monday, October 20, 2014

The Story Hour

Title:  The Story Hour
Author:  Thrity Umrigar
Publication Information:  Harper. 2014. 336 pages.
ISBN:  006225930X / 978-0062259301

Book Source:  I read this story based on the title and description.

Favorite Quote:  "We can't be responsible for other people's reactions to us ... We can only make sure that our intentions are good."

Lakshmi comes to the United States as a young bride. She has left her home and all she loves. She has married a man she barely knows. She is in a land that is completely foreign to her. Language is an issue. Culture is an issue. Lack of support is an issue. Marital discord is an issue. In desperation, Lakshmi attempts suicide. She is unsuccessful and ends up in the hospital under Maggie's care.

Maggie is a psychologist. She is married to an Indian man; this is perhaps the reason she is called in on Lakshmi's case. "Do white people presume some primal solidarity between all people of color?" Maggie is going through troubles of her own. She is having an affair and is uncertain of where her future leads.

Lakshmi and Maggie's relationship starts as that of patient and doctor, but it progresses to something resembling a friendship. Is it though? As they learn more about each other, they discover both their differences - "how vast the chasm that separated them - education, language, nationality, race" - and their similarities - "She go from being my teacher to becoming plain woman like me ... She turn  out same as me. Ordinary." Through this journey together, each woman also is on a journey of self-discovery and makes changes in her life for hopefully the better.

Lakshmi's story has potential to develop into more. Although the book begins with Lakshmi's attempting suicide, the story reveals her other decisions and the path that led her to this point. The book brings in the story of Lakshmi's life in India and how she comes to marry a virtual stranger. It brings in the motivation behind that decision and the far reaching repercussions. However, this aspect is narrated as the "big reveal" and the source of the guilt that Lakshmi harbors rather than being developed as a story in and of itself.

The other issue with Lakshmi's story is the way in which it is told. In an effort to make the character more authentic, Lakshmi's story is told in broken English. That is true to character, but after a while, it is just difficult to keep reading. Perhaps, maintaining that broken English in just the dialogue could have conveyed the same character? It would definitely be less awkward to read.

I just don't understand Maggie's character and don't particularly like her character. She is respected in her profession and is in a stable marriage. Yet, she's off having an affair. Her need for that is never made clear other than a general boredom with her own life. As a physician, she crosses a professional boundary with Lakshmi's, allowing their lives to overlap and for them to establish a relationship beyond doctor and patient. Maggie and her husband help Lakshmi gain independence and confidence. Yet, Maggie doesn't really offer friendship either. Maggie's character just never completely comes together.

This is the first book I have read by Thrity Umrigar. If I base a decision on this one book, I probably would not read any more. However, I have also had several people recommend her work to me. Maybe I'll try a different book.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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