After being introduced to Thrity Umrigar via her last novel, The World We Found, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on her latest book (neither could my mom, who promptly swiped my copy). The Story Hour hooks you from the beginning. Lakshmi, an uneducated immigrant woman from Indian who’s trapped in a loveless marriage, narrates her side of this story in broken English. She’s depressed and so desperately lonely that she tries to commit suicide. This event introduces her to the other narrator of the story, Maggie, the psychologist assigned to break through Lakshmi’s stony silence.
It’s a culture shock for Lakshmi, who has never interacted with an African American woman before. Meanwhile, this new assignment is somewhat of an annoyance to Maggie, who feels she was given Lakshmi’s case just because she’s married to a man from India. But the more the two talk to each other, the more each woman begins to change. For the first time in her professional career, Maggie feels like Lakshmi is getting under her skin somehow; she’s more drawn into Lakshmi’s story than she should be as a psychologist. Lakshmi doesn’t fully grasp the concept of therapy even though she knows that Maggie is trying to help her. She goes to Maggie’s house every week because that’s where Maggie’s practice is located, but so for Lakshmi, divulging her life to Maggie during this hour seems more like the beginning of a friendship rather than some kind of treatment.
Inevitably, that doctor-patient wall does come down. And I can’t say much more than that, because STUFF. HAPPENS.
What I will say is that I love how Umrigar’s characters are complex women of color, and that the idea of using alternating characters with very distinct voices worked wonders. Both women are feeling alienated in their lives when they initially meet. Maggie isn’t the warmest person and makes some awful mistakes, but a lot of her disposition is a type of self-protection stemming from various areas of her life:
She should’ve known that after all these years of working at the hospital, of being the best goddamn psychologist on his staff, when Cummings saw her, he still saw a black woman married to an Indian immigrant who taught at the university. God, how she hated working in this lily-white town. What did Cummings expect her to do — walk into the patient’s room and announce, “Hey, guess what? We’re both married to Indian guys. So can you trust me, sister?” Did white people presume some primal solidarity between all people of color?
Lakshmi’s voice is markedly different:
I am not ascare to die. I am only ascare that after death I be alone. Maybe because of suicide, I go to hell? If hell all hot and crowded and noiseful, like Christian minister on TV say, then I not care because it will be just like India. But if hell cold and quiet, with lot of snow and leaf-empty trees, and people who smile with string-thin lips, then I ascare. Because it seem so much like my life in Am’rica.
The only thing that got me about the book was something that tends to happen in any book I read involving therapists or psychiatrists straying from those patient-doctor boundaries: I get annoyed. What happens to the boundary in this book isn’t doctor-knocks-up-patient level scandalous, but I did keep thinking boundaries…BOUNDARIES! Then again, the deliciously unexpected plot twists in the book wouldn’t have happened if that wall had stayed up, so. I guess it’s all good.
The Story Hour was published in August 2014 by Harper Books, an imprint of HarperCollins. The book is on tour right now, so be sure to check out what other bloggers are saying!