I am participating today in the TLC blog tour for Thrity Umrigar’s The Story Hour. I haven’t read any of Umrigar’s other books (If Today Be Sweet, The Space Between Us), but I have heard good things about them, so I jumped on the opportunity to take part in this tour.
The Story Hour is about two women – Lakshmi, an Indian woman living in a loveless marriage in America with her Indian husband, and Maggie, an African-American therapist, also married to an Indian man, who ends up treating Lakshmi after she tries to kill herself. The two women develop an unusually close relationship from the start, and become more like friends than therapist-patient. Maggie crosses a number of lines in her treatment of Lakshmi, despite internal warnings, including getting Lakshmi to cater and clean for her friends and teaching her how to drive.
As the two get more involved in each other’s lives, Lakshmi reveals more about her past, and Maggie realizes that what she thought she understood about Lakshmi situation wasn’t really accurate. At the same time, she struggles with her own feelings about her husband and a visiting professor to whom she is very attracted.
Why are Lakshmi and Maggie so drawn to each other? There’s the Indian husband thing, yes, but they are two women from fundamentally different backgrounds. Umrigar sets up some parallels between the two: both women have secrets, both lost their mothers early in life, both women have been dishonest to their husbands, both women have acted recklessly at times. But I had a hard time falling for the central construct of the book, which is the magnetic but ultimately destructive nature of the women’s relationship. Maggie’s intense interest in Lakshmi beyond the professional never rang true for me.
I was ultimately somewhat disappointed by The Story Hour. I found it all to be pretty shallow – the characters, the plot, the themes. Umrigar’s treatment of longstanding marriages felt artificially simplified, and I had a hard time accepting Maggie as a therapist. She sounded like a girlfriend taking Lakshmi out to lunch, rather than a mental health professional dealing with a suicidal client. Also, Lakshmi and Maggie were both pretty immature. Given what I have heard of Umrigar’s other books, I expected a deeper, more nuanced story than the one I read. Lakshmi’s sections are also told in broken English, which was a little distracting.
That said, I enjoyed Umrigar’s depiction of the loneliness of the immigrant, and the stories of Lakshmi’s life in India before her marriage. Umrigar has a keen eye for detail – both physical and emotional – and I did feel as though I got textured and complete picture of the characters (despite their immaturity).
A lot of people really enjoyed The Story Hour, so don’t take my word for it. And I will still give Umrigar’s other books a try.
Thanks to TLC Book Tours for inviting me to participate and to Harper for the review copy.