This is a hard review for me to write. For some reason or another, I tend to avoid emotional books and boy, was this one emotional for me. Alas, I was drawn in by the own-voices narrative and the nod to mental illness.
The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar brings together two completely different women, who have more in common than one might think, in the form of a therapist-client relationship that is anything but routine. Maggie is a successful psychologist, and Lakshmi is an Indian immigrant who has recently tried to kill herself.
Moved by Lakshmi’s situation, Maggie agrees to treat the young Indian woman in her home office for free. Trapped in a loveless marriage, cut off from contact with her family abroad, and alone in a country with no one to talk to, Lakshmi relishes her time with Maggie. As their relationship continues, Maggie realizes that what Lakshmi really needs is a friend and the line between professional relationship and friendship begins to blur.
This story takes us through the double narrative of both Maggie and Lakshmi. We are given glimpses into the lives and history of each woman, but the story largely takes place when they come together in hour-long increments. This story really struck a nerve with me because I am half Middle Eastern, but was raised in a Caucasian household. I’ve never really been given the opportunity to connect with my Middle Eastern heritage, but own voices literature allows me that perspective. Through her broken english, Lakshmi recounts the stories of her childhood and young-adulthood in India and transports the reader to a different world.
An incredible book of diversity, The Story Hour looks at the fragility of friendship and how easily misunderstandings arise and boundaries are crossed when people are coming from two different cultural backgrounds. Lakshmi, having only lived in the U.S. for six (?) years, speaks imperfect english, has different understandings of personal boundaries, and a relationship with her husband that Maggie finds troubling. Maggie, an African American woman, is married to a college math professor and department head, who also happens to be from India. This contributes to Maggie’s patience and compassion, but isn’t always enough to bridge the natural cultural gap between the two women.
This story showcases the stories we gather throughout our lives, and how they make us the people we are. Not only that, but the importance of sharing those stories with others, especially those of different backgrounds. This story is at its most beautiful in the moments in which we get to watch the two women slowly begin to understand each other.
Reading diverse books by diverse authors is more important today than ever. Through these novels we are gain a perspective of someone else’s experience, and hopefully at the same time, explore new parts of ourselves. I’m really looking forward to exploring some more of Thrity’s work in the future.