For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been focusing on Shanthi Sekaran’s The Prayer Room. I met Sekaran last month at her Reading/Signing at Books Inc.; the excerpts she had read from her book built up anticipation within me to finish reading my then-current books and start on her debut novel.
This is the second time in my adulthood where I have read an author’s debut work; the first time, I’d prefer not to mention at the moment since it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. As a fellow writer, I do sincerely applaud Sekaran for her feats in becoming published and weaving together a lengthy novel. However, as a fellow writer, I can see some room for improvement in the future; and as just a reader, there are some aspects of the novel that bother me as I’m reading:
- Characters’ POV – From the start, I had assumed the novel would be about George, but, for most of the book, the focus actually seems to be on Viji, his Indian wife. I’m not sure if that was Sekaran’s intention, to shift the POV like that. Also, I’m not sure if it’s really necessary to change POV so suddenly within paragraphs/chapters among the other members of the family. It keeps the story going, but it has given me a slight wipe of confusion as I try to figure out whose POV I’m reading at the moment.
- The significance of the actual puja room aka prayer room – I understand that the puja room is where Viji feels the most safe, the most comfortable. However, I don’t currently understand why the spirits have to talk back to her, and why they seem to add a strange twist in humor to the overall sad mood of the novel.
- False turning points – There are a few parts of the novel so far where I felt like Sekaran really wanted to build up some suspense, some sort of climax, but in the end, I felt like it all built up to nothing. For example, the Thanksgiving “breaking point”; perhaps Viji’s actions were inferred the whole time, but I felt like I completely missed the point in the whole scene. Maybe I read too much of the face value and not enough between the lines.
As a reader, these are the aspects that bother me, but as a writer, I can understand the challenge of weaving together a long story. I’m still just a budding writer, so I may not be as well-versed in literary ways, but I suppose you can say I’m the average reader…and I don’t really “get” some parts of the book.
But, with all said and done above, I still genuinely do like the novel so far. I’m currently in the last quarter of the book, and it has been eye-opening in some ways to culture and how families handle the mixing of two cultures. It’s also refreshing to read about bits of Indian culture, since I’ve read more books about Asian culture/Asian-American culture before The Prayer Room.
I look forward to reading Sekaran’s future work, and hope to meet her again as well.