The Shape of Family by Shilpi Somaya Gowda [in Booklist]
Once upon a time, the Olander quartet was just about perfect: white American Keith and Indian-born cosmopolitan Jaya fall madly in love in London and eventually settle in northern California to raise their two children. When eight-year-old Prem drowns in the family’s pool, 13-year-old Karina blames herself. Keith chooses his career, Jaya turns spiritual; divorce is inevitable. Karina makes it to college, but drops out to join a commune, victimized by a Lothario impostor. Financial scams, self-harm, and an accidental murder have to happen for the family to finally reunite.
With resilience and grace, Shiromi Arserio certainly shoulders the heaviest burden of the 11 hours of relentless dysfunction. Given the narrative’s maudlin predictability, Arserio could be allowed an eyeroll or two, surely mimicking stubborn listeners who persevere through to the only-thing-missing-is-a-rainbow ending. Meanwhile, Vikas Adam has little more than a cameo, voicing perennially eight-year-old Prem who gets the pithiest lines – “I wasn’t just the clown, but the glue. I was the one who held them all together” – as he repeatedly bears witness to the dissolution of his left-behind family.