The Story Hour

August 19, 2014 Contemporary, Fiction, Literary, Review, Women's Fiction 8 ★★★★

The Story HourTitle: The Story Hour
Author: Thrity Umrigar
Source: from publisher for review
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads

Summary: The author’s beautiful writing made me experience the character’s emotions very deeply, but the emotional impact of the ending was weak compared to the rest of the book.

Psychologist Maggie has always been willing to try unorthodox methods and has become known for her ability to help in tough cases. When she is asked to help Lakshmi, an isolated Indian immigrant who tried to commit suicide, it is clear that unorthodox methods are called for. Lakshmi understand therapy to mean making friends with Maggie and Maggie relates to Lakshmi too much to maintain her usual distance. As these two very different women learn each other’s biggest mistakes, their differing backgrounds and expectations of their relationship will threaten their friendship, making it hard for them to forgive one another.

The first chapter is from Lakshmi’s perspective and in her own limited English. Initially I felt certain this writing style was going to distract me and pull me out of the story, but I slowly grew to love it. Lakshmi’s language abilities gave me a much greater understanding of the confusion and isolation she was feeling. I read the first half of the book with a lump in my throat, wanting to cry for Lakshmi’s loneliness. I’ve read many emotional books and books which have made me cry, but very few that have made me feel for a character the way this book did. I felt less emotionally connected to Maggie than Lakshmi, but she also seemed very real. I was incredibly impressed by Thrity Umrigar’s ability to write two completely different perspectives and make both believable.

After the emotional intensity of Lakshmi’s story, the ending was a bit of a let down. The focus of the story shifted to Maggie, who I found less sympathetic. I wasn’t quote convinced by the way the characters’ relationships changed and I found some of their choices very strange. I also expected the ending to be hugely emotional, the climax of this deeply emotional book. Instead, as with Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, we’re left hanging. Everything seems to be headed in the right direction, we’ve just reached the stage where there’s some room for optimism and the book ends! As I said in my review of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, I’m sure these open-ended conclusions work for some people. Personally, I’ve become more comfortable with ambiguous endings, but in these two books, I felt as though the stories deserved epic endings and instead they trailed off without a conclusion.

Do you like books where the author uses different dialects or writes in a way that reflects her characters’ language abilities? Or do you find that this distracts you from the story?

8 Responses to “The Story Hour”

  1. tanya (52 books or bust)

    I totally agree with you – the ending was weak. I think if it had ended 50 pages sooner it would have been better. You know what I’m talking about. But i love her writing. My review is going up this week as well.

    • DoingDewey

      I agree! I thought the characters’ actions at the end were a bit too strange and the story could have been wrapped up much better without. It was great writing though! I’ll have to check out some of her other books.

  2. Jorie @ Jorie Loves A Story

    Hallo Katie!

    I left the link to my own review ‘behind’ my name, as we each appreciated different aspects of the novel as a whole. I originally felt compelled by Lakshmi’s character but then, felt drawn more to Maggie. However, like you, I simply did not fully understand all the choices that each of the characters were taking nor did I fully enjoy the ending of the novel itself.

    To answer your main question though, yes! I do appreciate when an author goes out of their way to etch into their stories the language of the characters — it proves an authentic connection to how they think & speak. The best novel I felt that approach Hindi was “Losing Touch” by Sandra Hunter. In many ways, I preferred reading Losing Touch over The Story Hour as I could identify with the characters a bit more.

    My Review for Losing Touch

    I love reading books whose characters’ background is rooted in different cultures, traditions, religions, and languages of origin. Reading is a beautiful way to not only expand our horizons but to gain further empathy and compassion for the melting pot the world has happily become. That said, some stories I can connect with moreso than others, and although I think my observations murmur my thoughts well, on The Story Hour I cannot say it was one of my most favourites either.

    • DoingDewey

      Thanks Jorie! I’ve been meaning to check out your review since we started discussing The Story Hour, so I’ll hop over and do that next 🙂

      I really wasn’t sure about the writing style originally. I had to get into it before I could read Lakshmi’s sections without being distracted from the story by the effort it took me to understand what she was saying. Once I got into it though, I liked it a lot. I think you’re right that it gives us a better connection to the characters. It’s also a great way to add more diversity to a book, since not everyone is equally adept at speaking English or speaks with the same dialect.

      I also love reading books about diverse characters. That was definitely part of what drew me to this book in the first place and my favorite part after finishing it was how acutely the author made me feel the loneliness of being an immigrant with no friends or relatives to rely on. I haven’t read anything else by Thrity Umrigar, but I did love her writing style, so I’ll be sure to check out your review of Losing Touch and will think about giving it a try. (Edit – I see that’s not another one of her books, but a book on a similar topic, so I’ll think about giving it a try and check out some of Thrity’s other work! 🙂 )

  3. Melissa W.

    Depending on the book , an ambiguous ending can be effective; I actually liked how The Remains of the Day (the book, not the movie) ended.

    • DoingDewey

      I agree, ambiguous endings can be done well. I think I might be pickier about them than some other people and I am predisposed to dislike ambiguous endings, but I’ve read some that I liked too 🙂

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