Book Review: Late Bloomers by Deepa Varadarajan

Title: Late Bloomers
Author: Deepa Varadarajan
Publisher: Random House
Publication date: May 2, 2023
Length: 368 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Rating: 3 out of 5.

An Indian American family is turned upside down when the parents split up thirty-six years into their arranged marriage​ in this witty, big-hearted debut.

“Equal parts funny and heartbreaking, Late Bloomers is a charming story about starting over, stumbling, and finding yourself at any age.”–Jennifer Close, author of Marrying the Ketchups

I have a soft spot for underdogs. And late bloomers. You’ve told me a lot of things about yourself, so let me tell you something about me.

After thirty-six years of a dutiful but unhappy arranged marriage, recently divorced Suresh and Lata Raman find themselves starting new paths in life. Suresh is trying to navigate the world of online dating on a website that caters to Indians and is striking out at every turn–until he meets a mysterious, devastatingly attractive younger woman who seems to be smitten with him. Lata is enjoying her newfound independence, but she’s caught off guard when a professor in his early sixties starts to flirt with her.

Meanwhile, Suresh and Lata’s daughter, Priya, thinks her father’s online pursuits are distasteful even as she embarks upon a clandestine affair of her own. And their son, Nikesh, pretends at a seemingly perfect marriage with his law-firm colleague and their young son, but hides the truth of what his relationship really entails. Over the course of three weeks in August, the whole family will uncover one another’s secrets, confront the limits of love and loyalty, and explore life’s second chances.

Charming, funny, and moving, Late Bloomers introduces a delightful new voice in fiction with the story of four individuals trying to understand how to be happy in their own lives–and as a family.

Late Bloomers is the story of an Indian-American family struggling to figure out their paths in life after husband and wife Suresh and Lata get divorced. Their grown children, Priya and Nikesh, don’t particularly understand what’s going on with their parents, but they’re too immersed in their own complicated lives to fully engage or even ask.

Meanwhile, Suresh goes on one disastrous date (via dating website) after another, and Lata is considering going on the first-ever date of her entire life. While Suresh is astonished by all the lies people tell online, Lata is both amazed and intimidated when a nice man starts paying attention to her.

The story is set sometime in the past (iPhones and online dating exist, but people play music on CDs and watch DVDs) — so maybe 15 years or so ago? The lack of specificity actually made me a little nuts early on. Would it have hurt to stick a date on the first page of the first chapter?

Late Bloomers flows pretty quickly, but I never found myself all that engaged. It’s a nice enough story, but the biggest dramatic moment of the book is when an 8-year-old gets upset and runs away from a birthday party, and everyone has to go look for him. (Spoiler: He’s fine.) Chapters are narrated variously by Suresh, Lata, Priya, and Nikesh, and not all of them are equally likable or able to hold a reader’s (i.e., my) attention. Starting the book with a Suresh chapter feels like a mistake — he’s not pleasant to spend time with, and that made me drag my feet a bit about continuing.

Late Bloomers is a pleasant read — not exactly a page-turner, but interesting enough to want to see through. Of all the characters, Lata is the one who’s most endearing and whose future I felt most invested in. There are a few tangential story threads that are a bit weird (like the younger woman who moves into Suresh’s house for a pretty flimsy reason), but whenever the four main characters come together in their various combinations, the story picks up and is much more entertaining.

The novel shows four different people opening their eyes to new ways of being and thinking about their lives, after accepting the status quo for far too long. Whether it’s people in their 50s starting to date again, or their adult children reexamining their own decisions, Late Bloomers focuses on the possibility of personal growth and making big changes, no matter where in life a person is. Overall, the message is positive, although it takes quite a few mistimed conversations, evasions of truth, and heaps of the characters’ self-doubts to get there.

Recommended for when you’re looking for something domestic and on the non-stressful side to read. Save


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