First, a sincere apology to TLC Book Tours. This review is four days past my agreed-upon posting date, the first time I’ve ever missed my tour stop since beginning with them over a year ago. How to explain it? I’ve been in a funk to surpass all reading funks. Goodreads tells me I haven’t finished a book since August 9th. That’s one month and 11 days that I haven’t been reading – the longest respite from books I think I’ve ever taken.
So what have I been doing? Starting a new job as a high school creative writing teacher. The stress level has been high. Not only in the preparing but also in the actual doing – because once the course started both the students and I had to adjust our expectations. It’s been entirely all-consuming, to the point where, reading, for the first time in my life, has not been a priority.
Why am I wasting so much review space to say this? Because of this reason: I finished The Story Hour. When I picked it up today at 4:00, I was only 100 pages in, but I read straight through – 217 more pages – until I finished the book tonight. I was determined to let a book envelop me again, transport me and transform me as it hadn’t for months.
I’ve been in a trance ever since. The kind of marathon read I did was immersive and it left me completely open, almost raw to the changes the characters underwent. Lakshimi and Maggie seem like such friends at first, such supports to one another and also such foils – the Indian immigrant appearing uneducated and unstable, the black therapist sure of herself and whole. But by the novel’s end the roles are completely reversed, making for the sort of character development and narrative arc I haven’t seen in a long while.
This book is so rich – not only because of all the things it examines – marriages that aren’t built on love and marriages that are, the quest for fulfillment, the American experience, immigrant ascension, child abuse, sisterly love, sacrifice, adultery, trust …but also because of the way it is told. The book alternates between the assured third person narration of Maggie’s portion and Lakshimi’s broken and highly original English. Tremendous praise to Umbrigar for keeping Lakshimi’s voice consistent, for imbuing in her dialect a quality so trusting and searching and plucky.
What it is that Umbrigar does so effectively? I think she gives her characters vulnerability. She makes them flawed and human and open to the ebbs and flow of human emotion. And she allows the reader to enter completely into their predicaments, to get yanked under the yoke of their burdens. I felt each and every character’s falter and resolve as they struggled to surge forward and begin anew. And when they did reach this place of fresh beginnings and rekindled hope, I cheered inside as the best-realized books make us do.
Many thanks to TLC book tours for my review copy and for having me as a host. And one last apology for the late review!