Monday, October 1, 2018

Review: Louisiana Catch by Sweta Srivastava Vikram

We are facing a defining moment in history. Women everywhere are sharing their stories. From the biggies like rape and assault to smaller everyday occurrences and casual harassment, women are speaking up and speaking out, throwing off their unearned mantles of shame, refusing to be silenced. The #metoo movement has certainly drawn attention to the almost universality of the problem but there's more to be done to combat violence against women around the world. Sharing stories and drawing awareness is a good first step but it can't be the only step, as the main character in Sweta Srivastava Vikram's novel Louisiana Catch knows.

Ahana is an Indian woman in her thirties. She gave up a successful career in finance to work for a non-profit and her current assignment is organizing a large, international conference called No Excuse, designed to highlight and address the issue of violence against women. Ahana also happens to be a marital rape survivor, recently divorced, still very much ashamed of that divorce and wondering if she wasn't at least a little bit to blame for her husband's abuse of her. She has never fully explained her experiences with her husband to either her beloved mother or her supportive cousin. In putting together this very high profile conference, she often feels like an imposter. On top of her feelings about the end of her marriage and all of the work she is facing with the conference, her mother, the anchor of her life, dies unexpectedly. She is overwhelmed with extreme grief so at the urging of her cousin and despite her generally reserved personality, she joins an online therapy group for the recently bereaved. In the group she meets Jay, a man who has also lost his mother and with whom she starts building a supportive and somewhat dependent rapport.  At work, she connects with the handsome, teasing US-based Rohan.  She has a rather antagonistic relationship with him, judging him on the public face he presents on his social media. But Rohan is in charge of PR for the conference so she must work closely with him and try to temper her negative assumptions about him. As the conference grows closer, she uncovers more about each of these men, changing her feelings, potentially leading her into both emotional and physical danger, but also potentially opening her up to trust again.

As timely as the message of the book is, and as much as I wanted to love it, I found it frustrating and occasionally overwritten and clunky. For instance, we really don't need to know the color of Ahana's top and the brand of her pants as she practices yoga.  Conversely, this sort of detail is well done when Ahana is describing the mothers with strollers on the streets of New York, quickly telling the reader quite a lot about the character of the area she's in.  There are plot threads that get dropped pretty easily here. At one point Ahana's father begs her to come home to New Delhi. She ignores this because she must stay through the conference but it is never fully addressed. He's absent for the entire book, far less of an influence on Ahana than her late mother, but all of a sudden he needs her presence?  Frustrating. 

Ahana has been damaged by her ex-husband and reluctant to trust any man as a result, but she quickly bonds with Jay over the devastating loss of their mothers, which seems out of character for a woman so (deservedly) leery of men. She blames her own mother for making her dependent and incapable of judging people correctly although her mother is never presented as anything but supportive, strong, and kind in the brief time she is alive in the book. Ahana's treatment of Rohan, a work colleague, is pretty terrible and unprofessional.  Why he doesn't hand her off to his team after the first time she is awful to him is a real question. They've never actually met, only spoken on the phone or by Skype so why he would continue to deal with her professionally (never mind personally) is a mystery, unless it is because of the large size of her chest (unnecessarily mentioned several times in the book), which is counter to the entire theme of the novel and to the way that Rohan is otherwise drawn. The dialogue is virtually indistinguishable from character to character.  In particular, Rohan doesn't sound like an American born and raised, using the syntax and grammar that Ahana herself, as an Indian woman, uses.  The narrative as a whole is quite slow and goes over the same ground again and again with Ahana musing on the mental state of Jay or Rohan, blaming her mother for her weakness, revisiting the horror of her marriage, and getting angry at all of those around her who care for her. This may in fact be the way that survivors process, or at least some of them do, but it was a little tedious to read. As the novel does address an incredibly timely and important issue, and it appears that others feel very differently about the book than I do, those readers with a keen interest in women's issues and in a woman finding her own power may want to read it and make up their own minds.

For more information about Sweta Srivastava Vikram and the book, check out her webpage, like her page on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter or Instagram. Check out the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and Modern History Press for sending me a copy of the book for review.

1 comment:

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