I think distance also helps me gain an certain critical perspective that’s essential for good writing. It makes it possible to be more truthful in my writing, to speak some harsh truths. And being an immigrant in America, always having this outsider-insider thing going on, is such great training for being a writer. Because that’s what writers are – outsiders wanting to get on the inside and insiders longing to burst out.
On face, The Story Hour was set up to have a really fascinating plot. An Indian woman, Lakshmi, tries to commit suicide and is referred to a black psychiatrist for treatment, Maggie. Lakshmi is married to an Indian man who is indifferent and sometimes emotionally abusive to her, while Maggie is married to an Indian man as well, but they have a rich, loving relationship. The book is about both women finding themselves in their relationships and in life.
While I really enjoyed the creativity behind this story, unfortunately a lot of it fell flat for me. The characters all seemed a little too one-dimensional. The book alternates between Lakshmi and Maggie’s perspective. The Lakshmi sections are written in broken English, which seemed strange and uncomfortable, given that regardless of how Lakshmi’s spoken English sections should sound, she probably thinks pretty coherently in her mind. There wasn’t really a need to make her thoughts come across in broken English.
From the very first chapter Maggie’s character is tempted to cheat on her husband Sudhir, but we never really get a good explanation of why. It felt a little too much like the “black woman can’t hold down a marriage” trope. And some of the pointed descriptions of race were a little strange. Also, I understand the limitations of an Indian author writing about a black character, and I want to give her credit for even trying, since we desperately need more multicultural literature out there, but it seemed like she didn’t go very much in depth into Maggie’s cultural influences. Instead, it felt as though her cultural background was just a coincidence, when I’m sure it would have played a lot into her daily life.
I won’t give away the ending, but I’ll just say it seemed to drag on a little longer than necessary (which felt surprising since this is such a short book), mostly because it was a little cliché and predictable. But I still really appreciated the sheer creativity that Umrigar drew upon to come up with the initial plot and cast of characters, and I did find myself reading through the book fairly quickly once I got past the first couple of chapters and got used to her style here. I’m definitely interested in reading some of her other works later on.