The premise of this book was immediately interesting: lesbian Sri Lankan-American woman is married to a gay Indian-American man so both can keep their sexuality a secret, while dating on the side. It’s an entertaining story and makes for quick reading, but unfortunately it comes across as immature, at times problematic. The narrator, Lucky, spends the book feeling stuck in a lousy situation, but as she refuses to assert herself toward people who treat her terribly, while being terrible toward people who help and support her, I was increasingly less sympathetic.
Lucky (Lakshmi) is a 27-year-old freelance artist who, as the book opens, moves back in temporarily with her divorced mother to help care for her ailing grandmother. Living nearby is Nisha, an old flame from high school, who reaches out to reconnect with and cling to Lucky even as she’s entering her own arranged marriage. Lucky struggles with the conflict between her mother’s expectations and her own desire to present as butch, her feelings for Nisha and Nisha’s insistence on going forward with the wedding.
Unfortunately, for reasons that are never really explored, Lucky seems almost incapable of standing up for herself to the people she cares about, and thus spends most of the book feeling hemmed in and at the mercy of others. She’s doing her mom a favor by agreeing to stay and take care of her grandma free of charge while her mother works, yet passively submits to her mom’s controlling behavior and constant beratement for her appearance and choices. This despite the fact that there’s no apparent reason for Lucky to put up with this: She was born and raised in the U.S., where it’s 2012. She’s college-educated, financially independent and has her own home. She’s abandoned her parents’ Hindu faith. She feels no attachment to the local Sri Lankan community and secretly drinks her way through community events, while feeling at home in gay bars and among female rugby players. Why did Lucky take her mom’s side in the divorce (which left her mother an outcast herself in the immigrant community) when her mom treats her so badly? Why doesn’t she draw boundaries or distance herself when she isn’t getting anything she values out of the charade?
It’s the same story with Nisha, who reappears in Lucky’s life after eight years of virtual silence and yet feels entitled to demand friendship, sex, and emotional support, while engaged in an exhausting cycle of pulling Lucky close only to push her away. Lucky passively submits to this behavior too. But at the same time, she takes shameless advantage throughout the book of another woman who’s telegraphing her interest in Lucky with a neon sign: sleeping platonically in the woman’s bed, dragging her (and using her car for) a last-minute 30-hour road trip, etc.
Meanwhile, her complete disregard for the feelings or wellbeing of her husband turns – while the book doesn't seem to see it as a problem, let’s not beat around the bush here – into actual abuse at times. Here’s one scene between them, where Lucky is upset because her grandmother, who has been pushing her to have a baby, is in the hospital (it’s worth mentioning that her husband is a greeting card editor):
Kris sits down on the edge of the bed. “She’s going to be okay.”
I try to breathe out the concrete that’s filling me up.
“I’m sick of you being sick,” Kris says, so quietly that I can barely hear him. “Get well soon.”
I sit up and with all my strength, I push him down onto the bed and pin his arms above his head. I want to punch him, see the trickle of blood from his nose, feel my fist on his cheek. His skin would give way and then his muscles, ripping through, crack and shatter. I wrap one hand around his throat. I push my thumb and index finger into his arteries. He swallows. I push harder. His breathing slows.
WTF. And then there’s another incident, where he objects to spending their savings helping out with her grandmother’s hospital bills, and she responds with, “You don’t make these decisions. I could apply for a divorce. . . . And you’ll have to go back to India. How does that sound?” And then at the end, we’re clearly supposed to root for Lucky’s “empowering” choice to
But either way she shows an appalling lack of regard for a friend who supported her through the most difficult times in her life.
Unfortunately, I get the sense that this book is written with the assumption that because Lucky has all of these axes of oppression – woman, South Asian, lesbian – that she has the moral right to do whatever she wants, that she doesn’t have to consider others’ feelings. She shows a lack of empathy for others in general; perhaps we’re supposed to gather that so much suppression of her true self has left her incapable of caring for either herself or others. But then there are passages like this, about her art:
Only the pixie’s skin is colored so far – a dark almond that clashes sharply with the still-white background. The young man who ordered the drawing didn’t specify a skin color, but I know he meant for her to be pale. It’s my policy to default brown skin when the commissioner doesn’t specify.
Which seems like it belongs on a social justice blog, because it’s a clever commentary on the way American culture assumes white as a default. But I don’t buy it as a successful business plan, because you don’t build up the sort of following we’re told Lucky has by doing things you know your customers don’t want because they haven’t specified otherwise, to make an ideological point.
Overall, then, this isn’t a book I would recommend, even without getting into issues other reviewers have mentioned, such as the scatteredness of the plot, and the fact that despite the title, Lucky’s marriage is underexplored. Some reviewers seem inclined to be generous because it’s a South Asian LGBT book and there aren’t a lot of those – but I have read others, including one set in Sri Lanka. Hopefully someone else will write a better one.