I have always been fascinated by this intersection of gender and class--how the lives of women from the working class and the middle-class seemed at once so connected and so removed from each other.- Thrity Umrigar
The Story Hour is a compelling, close examination of the lives of two quite different women brought together under near tragic circumstances, whose progressive relationship forces them to reveal dark secrets and confront the flaws in themselves.
Lakshmi Patil, a dutiful eldest daughter who practically raises her motherless younger sister, has made a ritual of self sacrifice and unwavering responsibility, is challenged by the sham of a marriage that immerses her in a deep well of guilt, isolation and unhappiness. Relocated from India to a new life in America, Lakshmi clings to memories of her homeland, but her sense of who she is, is blurred. The overwhelming loneliness of being uprooted from her native home, alienated from family and commanded by her husband never to speak to them, laboring in their restaurant or stuck in their smelly room surrounded by solitude: Lakshmi is pushed to attempted suicide.
Maggie Bose, a self-assured, experienced psychologist, steadfastly keeps a professional distance from her patients, from "So much pain. So many secrets. She felt burdened by the weight of other people's secrets, their grief, their trust, their blinking anticipation, their eager faces, the hunger with which they looked at her, expecting answers, expecting cures, expecting miracles," but takes pity on, and befriends the young, uneducated Indian woman whom she sees as trapped in a dismal marriage to a dominating man.
As Lakshmi's and Maggie's relationship progresses, as the connective threads are inextricably sewn; detoxing, cathartic and introspective moments of confession that would normally bind more tightly a blossoming friendship, expose instead their shameful secrets and duplicity.
You build your 'temple of happy' on someone else's grave.
The Story Hour explores the fragility of a friendship shaking on a foundation of mistrust, misunderstandings, and the heartbreak that betrayal imparts; it seeks out the way to forgiveness, absolution, a second chance, that elusive miracle, hope.
Umrigar sensitive tale of an Indian woman's experience torn from her native home, of class and cultural differences and perspectives, pulsate off the pages with insight and deep emotion.
It wasn't difficult to be immediately pulled into the story from the very start, proving the remarkable, spellbinding gift of this storyteller to mesmerize her readers with her beautiful prose.
I had my first taste of Thrity Umrigar's exquisite writing years ago through her touching novel The Space Between Us, but not quite sure why it took so long to bridge the gap to her other novels. I'll be sure not to let the hours turn to years before reading more of her work.