The Weight of Heaven (Umrigar)

In this perfectly-titled novel, Umrigar presents a nuanced look at the challenges facing a couple whose son has died unexpectedly. In an attempt to revive their lives and marriage, they decide to accept a business opportunity in rural India. At this point, the story only becomes more layered and complex. What does it mean to be an American who runs a business in another country, a business that makes use of natural resources that once were used by the indigenous population. Labor troubles complicate their lives. But it is the presence of the child of their servants, a boy slightly older than the child they lost, that sends Frank Benton spiraling to places he never imagined.

For three-quarters of the book, I think everything is pretty much pitch perfect. Umrigar’s characterizations, from when Frank meets his eventual wife, to their friends and associates in India, to their families (notably Scott, Frank’s brother) are all dynamic and convincing. The decision that Frank makes, which sends the story careening towards its conclusion, is also believable, even Shakespearean in its ambition. And certainly unexpected things happen to ruin the best of plans, but the easily anticipated moments here (a soccer match, a visit from a friend’s relative) did not need to come as a surprise. Taken together, these last minute plot devices as well as an effort to humanize the father of the child Frank has ‘adopted,’ make the ending come off as somewhat forced. Umrigar has one more move to make, and it is a surprising and credible one – the kind of revelation that makes one long for a sequel.

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