The Story Hour; Thrity Umrigar
Harper - August 2014
Maggie Bose is a 56 year old psychologist who is married to a professor from India. She is a black woman who has become successful despite growing up poor and being sexually abused as a child. One day she gets a new client, a 30-something, Indian woman named Lakshmi who has just attempted suicide. Every week following her release from the hospital, the two of them meet for a one hour therapy session at Maggie’s home office.
Lakshmi’s suicide attempt stems from several factors. She is in a loveless marriage to an verbally abusive man, cut off from her family (she moved to the US from India 6 years earlier), she is friendless and even though she works long hours at her husband’s restaurant, she has no money of her own. She is dependent on her husband for every little thing. In India, Lakshmi was a woman with pride yet in the mid western town she now lives her life is lonely and her self-respect gone.
As Maggie and Lakshmi meet for their weekly therapy sessions, Maggie is confident that all her client needs is a friend and some confidence to begin to feel some self-worth. Maggie tries to maintain professional boundaries yet she tells Lakshmi that her husband Sudhir is an Indian man so that she begins to feel comfortable with their sessions. Before long, Lakshmi is bringing Sudhir his favorite Indian dishes and she is starting to feel that Maggie is more friend than therapist. At her weekly sessions she shares more about her life in India and even sheds light as to why her husband feels the way he does about her.
Although Maggie is shocked by what she learns about Lakshmi's marriage, she has some secrets about her own marriage that she has attempted to keep secret, until one day Lakshmi discovers the truth. Despite all the help Maggie has been to build Lakshmi’s confidence and to make her more independent -- she’s taught her to drive, found her jobs catering for small parties and is cleaning houses, when Lakshmi discover the secret Maggie's been hiding she is angry and shocked and without thinking seeks revenge against the woman who has helped her.
The Story Hour brings together two very different women each carrying their share of guilt and secrets. Told primarily in the alternating voices of each woman, I must admit that initially, I found reading the broken English narrative of Lakshmi to very a bit off putting, but once I eventually got used to it., and understand that, it did make her character more authentic. As with her earlier novels, the author has created a compelling story and characters that you will remember after the final page is turned.
(review copy sent by publisher)