Back in the eighties, Cyndi Lauper reached the top of the charts with her free spirited ballad, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, which celebrates the party girl lifestyle. Grown-Up Pose is the story of what happens when a young woman, after years of being perfectly responsible, decides she’d like to pursue that more freewheeling way of living.
Anu (Anusha) Desai has always tried to meet everyone’s expectations. When she wanted to make a career of yoga and her family said no, she studied nursing. When her family insisted she make her dating relationship ‘legitimate’, she became a young, virginal bride. When her mother-in-law and mother came by her house (which was often) and told her to change the way she cooked or cleaned, she obeyed them. When the other parents at daycare wouldn’t help with the class play, she wrote it and worked on the sets herself. She is pushed to the breaking point however, when her husband Neil begins to treat her like a cooking uterus, giving her attention only when she is sliding a plate of food in front of him or making a baby. The night Neil fails to shovel the driveway after a big snow storm, she decides she’s had enough. In spite of the uproar she knows it will cause, she asks him to move out and starts dating the white guy at work who showed some interest in her. She knows this is hard for her four-year-old daughter Kanika, but for once in her life Anu is determined to put herself first.
Almost everything goes wrong for Anu as she discovers herself. The white guy cheats on her, her family is angry with her, her ex is angry with her, the guy she made out with to help her forget the cheater turned out to be eighteen, and the only bright spot in her life is discovering a new to her, perfect for her, yoga studio. Of course it is going out of business and in desperate need of a new owner. Which has Anu considering her most ambitious change yet: opening her own yoga studio.
The author does some things incredibly right in this story. For one, she captures Anu’s frustrations perfectly. “Obsessing, obtruding, berating, – this was the way so many Indian parents loved” she tells us, which left her with a feeling like “she’d been pinned down on the floor with a boot flattened to her chest.” The author depicts in a few key flashbacks how Anu had been smothered by her mother and mother-in-law ganging up on her regarding her house and the manner in which she ran it. Those scenes also emphasized how little affection or consideration Neil had shown Anu once Kanika was born. There’s a poignant moment where she has to watch her parents lovingly banter as Neil walks past her in complete silence, not even acknowledging her existence, which really underlined the fact she had become nearly invisible to him.
Those scenes depicting Anu’s struggles in the recent past are juxtaposed with her bitterness over the events that led to them. As I mentioned at the start, Anu married at her parents’ insistence and had also chosen her career based on their desires. But beneath her outward compliance resentments seethed. She hadn’t wanted to be a nurse, but she had wanted to have the opportunity to date more, travel and just be young. That angst comes across in a very sympathetic manner in the book and I felt the author did a very nice job of capturing the sense of entrapment Anu felt.
Sonia Lalli has a mildly humorous, clear and elegant writing style that made this book a very quick read. I appreciated how she tackled some tough subjects with enough respect that she wasn’t dismissive of them, but with a light enough hand that the book didn’t lose the (primarily) joyful vibe the cover art promises.
There is one very large flaw, however, that knocked what could have been a great book into simply above average territory – and that is the timing within the novel. The author makes the mistake of telling us much of the critical information that makes Anu’s story sympathetic in flashback. That means that when we first meet Anu, we see behavior that is utterly self-absorbed, done with little to no consideration of how her words and actions affect the people around her. We see her putting herself first by essentially steamrolling over everyone rather than attempting to work things out with them or respecting their feelings. Once we understand why she felt the need to implode her life in order to feel she could live it on her terms, this conduct becomes a bit more understandable. Even with that insight, though, I had some issues with her deeds, with the biggest one being the physical altercation she and one of her friends had with the man who ‘cheated’ on her. The text seemed to imply that it was okay for Anu and her buddy to take turns punching the guy in the nose in the lobby of the building where they work because of Anu’s hurt feelings. Given that Anu is still technically married, I found it oddly ironic that the single guy without a commitment to her was the one considered the cheater and frankly, a fist fight at work is never the right response to a bruised heart.
Another factor that disturbed me – again relating to timing – was when Anu chose to have her meltdown. She should have shaken things up prior to getting married and having a daughter, not after she dragged a husband and child into the fray. The author waves the magic wand of fiction over Anu’s actions and has her family, friends and ex be very forgiving of the trouble she puts them through, creating a happy ending that lacks the messiness such real life events would have led to, but I think most readers are savvy enough to realize the ending would only happen so smoothly in a book.
This is women’s fiction so we aren’t guaranteed an HEA but we do have one. It’s impossible to talk about the specifics without giving away spoilers, but while I was pleased it was there, I also felt the author glossed over it too quickly. It was a relationship that, given the circumstances that surrounded it, needed more conversations and romance between Anu and her hero. Like so much about this story, this is a mixed bag because so much potential was there but we are given only a taste of that, not the whole dish.
Women are still judged more harshly than men when we behave in anything but a loving, responsible manner and I have a feeling that for many readers, Anu’s antics as she arrives a bit late and battered to the wife and mother she was always meant to be might have them strongly disliking Grown-Up Pose. However, if you like your women’s fiction/chick lit novels with a heavy dose of female empowerment, I think this just might be the tale for you.
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