Therapist Maggie Bose is adept at keeping a professional distance from her clients. But when she meets Lakshmi, a young Indian woman whose loneliness drove her to attempt suicide, Maggie's boundaries dissolve. Agreeing to treat Lakshmi in her home, for free, Maggie helps the younger woman learn to drive and start a catering business. Soon the two women become friends, after a fashion--but each has secrets that will jeopardize their relationship and ultimately rock both their marriages.
Thrity Umrigar (The Space Between Us) shares both women's viewpoints, telling Maggie's story in detached third person and Lakshmi's story in first person. (Lakshmi speaks a simplified pidgin English, even when narrating to herself, so the switch is sometimes jarring.) Umrigar provides glimpses of the India Lakshmi left behind: her pet elephant Mithai, her beloved younger sister Shilpa, and the disastrous events that tore their family apart and sentenced Lakshmi to a loveless marriage. Maggie is happily married to Sudhir, a kind Indian man, but a brief, passionate affair threatens to destroy everything they have built. When Lakshmi discovers Maggie's secret, her actions carry consequences for both women.
Umrigar deftly highlights the contrasts between Maggie's American upbringing and Lakshmi's traditional Indian heritage, and while Maggie is better educated, she often lacks the kindness and self-awareness shown by Lakshmi. At times, both characters seem generic, like the houses in the bland college town where they live. Despite minor flaws, The Story Hour is a thought-provoking meditation on marriage, friendship and the ramifications of small actions. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams