Thursday, December 9, 2021

Review: The Marriage Game by Sara Desai

Take one single woman whose tirade directed at her ex-boyfriend when she discovers him in a very compromising position goes viral, add one uptight and rather ruthless businessman trying to get much deserved revenge on his sister's ex-husband, stir in a big, nutty extended Indian family, and put both man and woman in one ssmallish office space above the family restaurant and you've got an explosive romantic comedy on your hands. This is the premise of Sara Desai's novel The Marriage Game.

Layla Patel has moved back home to San Francisco from New York. The viral video cost her not only the relationship with her terrible ex, but also her job as a recruiter. She's come home to start over close to her family. Deciding to open her own recruiting agency, her father offers her the office space above their restaurant despite having recently rented it out to Sam Mehta and his corporate downsizing company. Before her father can tell Sam he needs to move elsewhere, he has a heart attack and lands in the hospital so both Layla and Sam move into the office, each believing that it is their space. They spark off each other immediately, a strong physical attraction combined with an instantaneous dislike of each other. In the midst of the argument about the ownership of the office, a man arrives looking for Layla, claiming he's going to marry her. He is just the first of the ten men whom Layla's father has shortlisted for her in a potential arranged marriage. Layla is willing to meet all the men her father thought might work for her while Sam, haunted by the guilt he carries over the disastrous end to his own sister's arranged marriage, offers to vet the men and help Layla choose her spouse. If she finds a husband, he gets the office. Win win for everyone.

The banter between Layla and Sam is flirty and rather sexually charged. They have more than a few misunderstandings. And they are definitely set up as complete opposites. Layla is curvy and passionate, messy and thoughtful. Sam is all hard edges and focused, tightly controlled and confident. Layla is reinventing herself surrounded by love while Sam needs reminding who he once was and should be again. Layla embraces her culture while Sam rejects it. The story between the two is alternately funny and infuriating. Sam can be a real jerk. The secondary characters are mostly unnuanced. There are some kooky friends (and a few gross ones) and family but the focus is mainly on the two main characters. There is a real flavor of the Indian American community and culture, especially within Layla's family and although many readers will miss the numerous Bollywood references, for those who catch them, they add to Layla's character and feelings. There are some pretty steamy scenes here for those who are sensitive but they fit with the plot and Layla and Sam's relationship. Over all the book is fun although the end is wrapped up quite quickly and Sam is easily forgiven his role in a major upheaval that would probably have destroyed any real life relationship. But we (I) don't read rom-coms for real life situations, so... The book has received quite mixed reviews but it is a quick and easy read for an afternoon.

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