Thursday, January 26, 2017

Fiction therapy

Stories are therapeutic. Jesus, the Great Physician, told stories. For decades Reader's Digest has been telling us that laughter is the best medicine, making its case with funny stories. We all read stories, listen to stories, tell stories and watch stories on television and in movies because of how this makes us feel. And psychologists and psychiatrists attempt to help their patients by getting them to tell their stories.

And so we come to The Story Hour, Thrity Umrigar's powerful 2014 novel in which an immigrant woman from India, caught in an unhappy marriage, attempts suicide and is then assigned to a psychologist. Over time, Lakshimi shares her stories in her one-hour weekly sessions with Maggie, a black psychologist who happens to be married to Sudhir, a college professor from India. In time Lakshimi's life and marriage improve, but it turns out that Maggie has her own problems and her own stories. Although she loves her husband, she cannot resist the charms of another man, and her marriage collapses. Can Lakshimi do for Maggie what Maggie did for Lakshimi?

Umrigar's novel is not nearly as simple or simplistic as that summary may suggest. She develops her characters fully, giving them many layers and many stories that reveal how they got where they are.

Yes, reading The Story Hour is therapeutic. It makes you feel better.

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