Published by Harper Collins on August 19th 2014
Genres: Fiction, Literary, Contemporary Women, General
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The Story Hour mostly alternates between the perspectives of Lakshmi and Maggie. Lakshmi is a 32-year-old Indian immigrant who is isolated and unloved by her domineering husband. Her life in America has been limited to her husband’s small grocery store and restaurant and she has no life independent of her husband or any money of her own. Lakshmi is devastated when her only “friend,” a regular customer who is kind to her, tells her that he is moving to California and she attempts suicide. She survives and ends up under the care of Maggie, a 55-year-old African-American psychologist who is also married to an Indian man. Lakshmi has prejudices and is distrustful of Maggie at first, but she slowly warms to the her when Maggie stands up to Lakshmi’s husband on Lakshmi’s behalf. As Maggie treats Lakshmi, the lines between the professional relationship and friendship quickly get blurred. This books deals with culture, racial & class differences, the similarities we alls hare despite those differences and forgiveness of ourselves and others.
On the surface the two women could not be more different, but as you learn about their pasts you can see how many similarities they share. The different paths that Maggie and Lakshmi’s lives take after the climax struck me especially, particularly after it becomes clear that the advantages that Maggie has in life will not help her situation, whereas Lakshmi’s life improves despite the lack of advantages. No matter what fortune or misfortune we are born into, love is the great equalizer. We are also all equally capable of screwing our lives up!
The writing is nice and I thought that a section about Maggie’s final tryst was especially poetic. My favorite part of this book was Lakshmi’s story arc and her stories about childhood in India. The book really makes you understand how isolating it would be to move away from your family to a completely different country with a completely different culture. Lakshmi’s story is told in broken English. I thought that style was grating at times, but it probably comes off better in audio than in writing. When she was struggling to communicate, I found it a very effective device in showing the isolation she must have felt.
I did not like Maggie’s sections as much. It was painful watching her make mistakes that you knew were going to have severe consequences. Her romanticization of Peter, the object of her affection, was cringeworthy. When she started the “earthbound creatures” speech to her husband Sudhir, I felt so much secondhand embarrassment! I am glad he stopped her, before she could finish it! She just wasn’t very self-aware or introspective when it came to her own life.
I listened to this book via audio. The narration was nice, although I thought the raspy vocalization of Peter was so grating.
This novel was very slowly paced. I felt like I had to force myself to get through this novel. I did start getting more interested in the last 2/3s (8 hours in!), when Lakshmi’s big secret is revealed and Maggie experiences the consequences of her professional breach and infidelity. There were still a lot of questions in the end. I don’t always need answers, but when I slog through something I feel like I earned some closure! Although I didn’t really enjoy this novel, I think it would be a great novel for a book club because it does provoke much discussion.