Thursday, May 24, 2012

Book Review: "The Invitation" by Anne Cherian

Frances, Jay, Lali, and Vikram met as undergraduates at UCLA. All four had come to the U.S. from India, each from a different walk of life, to pursue some version of the American dream. All four expected to be tremendous successes in life and have even more successful children. Frances and Jay, who met during college, married shortly after graduation and had three children while Frances sold real estate and Jay worked in management. Lali married an American cardiologist and the two had one son, and Vikram founded his own successful computer company and never stopped pursuing his desire to have colossal success.

Twenty-five years later, Vikram has invited his old friends to attend a party celebrating his son Nikhil's graduation from MIT. And while Jay, Frances, and Lali decide to attend the party more out of curiosity than anything else, none of their lives have been as smooth as they believe Vikram's is. Frances, who abandoned the pursuit of her PhD when she started having children, now sells real estate, although she hasn't sold a house in more than a year, Jay's middle-management job isn't quite what he imagined he'd be doing, and their oldest daughter is failing 11th grade. Lali's marriage is struggling as her husband begins to explore his neglected Jewish roots, and her son decides he wants to take a year off from college. And while Vikram is mostly concerned with the appearance of success, his son is not interested in pursuing the path Vikram feels he should. As the four prepare for the party and then meet at Vikram's mansion in Newport Beach, they need to decide how much truth they'll divulge to their friends, not realizing how the truth reveals itself in ways you never expect.

The plot of The Invitation is certainly familiar, but Anne Cherian's adept storytelling hooks you quickly and immerses you in each of the characters' lives and struggles. I felt like Cherian did a good job in trying not to have her characters adhere to cultural stereotypes, although you see how easy it is to slip back into old habits. Ultimately, however, the story veered a bit into melodramatic territory, which I felt undercut the book's effectiveness. I think Cherian is a very good writer, but it seemed to me that she lost a little steam as the book neared its end, although it is still an enjoyable read.

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