by Shobhan Bantwal, contemporary (2007)
Kensington, $14.00, ISBN 978-0-7582-2031-8
If the premise of the The Dowry Bride seems exaggerated and cartoonish, I am afraid that such a thing can actually happen even today. Our dear Indian heroine - and that's "Indian" as in "she is living in India" - Megha Ramnath's mother-in-law conspires with Megha's husband Suresh to kill her because after a year of marriage, Megha still hasn't conceived while the dowry from her marriage hasn't arrived yet. Even in Malaysia, where thankfully no wives have been murdered over dowry issues as far as I know, I've known Indian couples that were forced to have their marriage annulled because the woman's parents couldn't deliver the dowry to the man's family.
So, anyway, Megha overhears the heinous plotting and decides to flee before she turns into a cuddly human barbecue party for one. She finds an ally in Kiran, the cousin of her husband, but her husband and the mother-in-law from hell are not going to give up on their dreams of fatty barbecue anytime soon. Meanwhile, under Kiran's gentle Prince Charming-style coddling, Megha blossoms into an enlightened triumphant woman of strength and independence as some kind of uplifting track, I don't know, Destiny Child's Survivor maybe, figuratively plays in the background.
Now, I am one of those folks who would love to see more Asian authors writing romantic fiction within or outside the romance genre, but The Dowry Bride comes off like a cross between a most melodramatic and campy Bollywood melodrama and a Looney Toons cartoon. The bad guys are pretty much cartoon characters here as they are one-dimensionally evil while the good guys like Kiran are just as one-dimensional with their virtuous and enlightened selves. These characters are just who they are, very evil or very virtuous, with no insight provided by the author as to how they end up being how they are. As a result, nothing in this story, including the romance, feels believable. Everything is amped too high on the melodrama scale here. At least if this is a Bollywood movie, I can entertain myself by watching shirtless cute guys doing ridiculous dances, but since this is a book, I can only get my amusement from the unintentional comedy that results from Ms Shobhan's melodramatic style of writing.
Another problem is that the author sometimes gets carried away with delivering a Message rather than a Story that I am subjected to long didactic paragraphs more appropriate for a soapbox. Characters tend to speak in unnaturally stilted manner as if they are reading aloud the script from a high school PSA broadcast.
The Dowry Bride is a book that I would love dearly to adore to pieces, but unfortunately, I will most likely only be able to adore this book to pieces if it is a movie featuring shirtless hard-muscled Mumbai hunks running around like earnest schoolboys in love. The only thing that saves this book somewhat is the last few chapters that show that the author has indeed a few tricks up her sleeve. But she will have to do better than this next time.
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