I finally saw the movie “The Namesake.” Based on Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri’s first novel, it is a story about the struggles of a young Indian-American man, born of immigrant parents, growing up in America. What lends freshness to this tired old theme is the particularity of the story, and the fact that it doesn’t cater to stereotypes. I thought the movie was pretty good, but a bit thin on substance. Yes, it is a coming-of-age story, an immigrant story, a story about belonging, identity and maturity, done rather well. But it (the movie, not the book, which I haven’t read) reminded me of a comment my mother had once made, years ago, upon starting to read Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy.
The Vikram Seth book is apparently a multi-family saga, centered around a family’s search for a groom for their daughter. It is a doorstopper of a book. My mother’s point was – why write a novel (and such a fat one at that) about ordinary, everyday things that happen in so many families? What’s so special about that? Where’s the story?
Some people have compared Seth’s monumental work to Tolstoy and Dickens. I will read it at some point when I have enough time to tackle a tome that voluminous. I don’t want to detract from its virtues, which are spoken of as many – suffice it to say that the amount of drama in my family, particularly the maternal branch, is enough for a dozen novels that would put most fiction to shame. This is kind of where my mother was coming from when she made that comment.
Nevertheless I want to pursue the notion of story from various perspectives based on my personal encounters, viewpoints, eccentricities, and sets of assumptions. When we say “that was a good story,” and shut the book reluctantly, with a sigh, what are we saying? How might personal quirks, cultural and other assumptions determine a ‘good’ story for one person and a bore for another?