Monday, March 23, 2020

Review: The Shape of Family by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

Everyone handles grief differently. Some people want to bury it, some to shout it from the rooftops. Some people need to talk it through with others while some look for solace in a higher being. Holding onto grief and internalizing it without embracing or accepting it can tear apart the closest families, severing bonds once thought unbreakable. This is the case with the Olander family in Shilpi Somaya Gowda's newest novel, The Shape of Family, about a family disintegrating in the wake of a terrible tragedy, one that each member carries forward, shaping their futures in ways so unlike their pasts.

Keith, a successful investment banker from a financially insecure background, meets and marries Jaya, who works in international relations and grew up living all over the world as the cultured daughter of an Indian diplomat. The two of them settle in California and start to raise their family, daughter Karina, in eighth grade when the novel opens, fully cognizant that her mixed race heritage keeps her from feeling like she fits in anywhere, and mischievous, sweet eight year old son Prem. Their lives are not perfect but they are mostly happy with the balance they've struck. And then a terrible tragedy hits this small, self-contained family, and everything spirals out of control. They are cracked wide open in the wake of the devastation wrought by this sudden, unexpected, and unimaginable catastrophe, each character retreating away from the others, facing their guilt and the grief on their own, connections to each other stretching and tearing. In their individual, isolated spirals, they each try to move forward and forge a new life, without fully coming to terms with their loss and Prem, once an integral piece that held them together, is now helpless to stop the familial disintegration.

The novel's narration moves among the four Olander family members, with Karina being the biggest focus. The story is heartbreaking and the characters' grief is palpable as each withdraws into themselves and away from their once strong connections to each other. There are a lot of issues explored here beyond grief and what the shape of a family is: divorce, cutting, cults, the obsessive pursuit of money, complete immersion in religion, self-worth as defined by a job, love and relationship, and morality, as well as the suggestion of both rape and suicide. Perhaps there are a few too many topics. The first third of the book is quite grief heavy but it has a stronger focus than the last two thirds, mirroring the weaker bonds between the family members the further they get from the tragedy but also loaded with more and more issues. The ending here is hopeful, which is welcome after such an intensely sad story but it moves quite heavily into explanatory writing rather than allowing the hope to be revealed organically. There's so much pain in this novel but, in the end, what matters is that love remains and it will always be included in the forever changed shape of the family. Readers who enjoy novels of families facing adversity and sorrow and seeing the characters' subsequent responses to tragedy will enjoy immersing themselves in this novel.

For more information about Shilpi Somaya Gowda and the book, check our her author site, follow her on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, look at 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 publisher William Morrow for sending me a copy of this book to review.

1 comment:

  1. I love that this covers so many topics with grief being a steady under current. This is one I'll have to get on my list. Thank you for being on this tour! Sara @ TLC Book Tours


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