The first day of fall is on Sept 23rd, and today is certainly doing a great job of ushering in the new season. It is bright and sunny and cool-ish, with still a hint of the warmth of summer. I’m looking forward to going for a long hike along the Grand River this afternoon, but will hopefully squeeze in some quality reading time tonight.
Last week was fairly disrupted, as there seemed to be something going on every night and all weekend, so I only got to finish one book, The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar. My “friends” book group will be getting together tomorrow night to discuss this novel, which is one I received quite some time ago to review, so this offered an opportunity for the reading version of multitasking, as I will also send in a book review. This is the story of Maggie and Sundhir and Lakshmi and Adit, of the complexities of relationships and the power of storytelling. It opens with a woman who is reviewing her life as she swallows all the pills in the medicine cabinet and drinks her husband’s whiskey. Maggie, a psychologist who, at the end of a long week, is rushing out of the office to meet her date, is called in to meet with Lakshmi, a patient at the hospital who has tried to kill herself and refuses to talk to anyone, possibly because she has limited knowledge of the English language. Reluctantly she postpones her date and heads up to the 7th floor where she encounters a woman facing the wall, unwilling to respond to her voice as she calls out to her. But through persistence and gentle persuasion, Lakshmi eventually relents and turns to face Maggie. Maggie’s husband is from India, as are both Lakshmi and her husband, Adit, and so, through shared experiences, they begin to communicate and Lakshmi becomes her patient. Maggie is a black, upper-middle-class professional who has an idyllic marriage to professor husband Sundhir, while Lakshmi is an uneducated immigrant woman in an unhappy marriage to Adit, a man whose nickname for his wife is “stupid”. When Maggie begins seeing Lakshmi in her home office, the two women form a bond that goes beyond conventional therapy to uncover the loneliness and isolation of one woman, and the shame and guilt of the other. As their stories are shared, they become the unlikeliest of friends, with all the complications that arise when repressed emotions are released and hidden stories are revealed. This novel explores the complexities of relationships and emotions, and the restorative power of friendship and storytelling. You know, this was probably a really great book, and one that I might have thoroughly enjoyed if I had read it at a different time, but which offered only a very “flat” reading experience for me at this time, and here is why: I just read Tell It To The Trees for my other book group last week, and I can’t help comparing them because of their many similarities. Both books are about immigrant women from India who are in an unhappy marriage, are friendless and lack self-esteem. They both do not know how to drive and are exceptional cooks. Both women seek help from an outsider who appears to be happy and self-assured, and both are set in a cold climate, which contrasts with their native India. But Trees was suspenseful, mysterious, and extremely well-written, driven not only by the development of so many of the characters in the book, but also setting and language. It was concise and, for me, brilliant. The Story Hour, however, following hard on the heels of Trees, fell short in so many ways. The writing was just “ok”, the stories of Maggie and Lakshmi were mildly interesting but not entirely believable, and there seemed to be alot of what I would consider “filler”. I’m sure that these opinions have been heavily influenced by my very recent reading experiences, so if you think you might want to read this book, please don’t let my post deter you from doing so. I read The Space Between Us by Umrigar a number of years ago and thought it was a pretty good book, also about an Indian woman in an abusive marriage, but if I recall correctly, that one was set in India. So go ahead and read this novel, but I would not recommend reading it directly after reading Tell It To The Trees. I'm so curious to find out what my book group members thought of it - so far a couple of people have emailed me to say they loved the book, which is great. I'm also curious to see if anyone else has compared it to Trees, as we discussed that novel some time ago, too.
OK, that was a short post, and I’m ready to get outside and enjoy the golden rays of autumn sunlight and the start of the changing colours of leaves.
Bye for now…