The Marriage Game
A comedic love story about a disputed office, a matchmaking papa and a series of disastrous blind dates, Sara Desai’s The Marriage Game is the perfect read for those who love hot mess heroines involved in zany situations.
Layla Patel’s life falls apart when she catches her social media star boyfriend snorting “the last of her savings off the stomach of two naked models” and responds by tossing his stuff over their balcony in a fit of rage. Caught on camera, the “Blue Fury” YouTube video goes viral, causing Layla to be evicted from her apartment and fired from her job. Having nowhere else to go, she leaves New York and heads home to her family in San Francisco. Layla’s first stop is at her parents’ Michelin-starred restaurant, The Spice Mill. Her surprised father is delighted to have her back, thrilled when she says she wants to stay and immediately offers her the empty office upstairs after she mentions a tentative plan of starting an employment agency. There’s only one small problem: he’s already rented it to someone else but he will call and cancel the existing rental contract. As they are jubilantly discussing the plans for her new company, the excitement overwhelms him and he has a heart attack.
When Sam Mehta’s sister married the brilliant surgeon Sam was doing his residency with, his life seemed as though it had reached the pinnacle of perfection. Everything went downhill pretty quickly, though. His brother-in-law turned out to be an abusive monster who hurt his sister during an argument and the hospital, eager to keep their star surgeon, refused to believe her accusations against him and gave their full support to her abuser. Disillusioned with medicine, Sam gets an MBA and with a friend, builds a corporate downsizing company that is rapidly becoming a leader in their field. He is surprised and more than a bit disconcerted when he goes to move into their new office and finds Layla already occupying it. She refuses to move, insisting that her father meant to cancel Sam’s lease. Sam refuses to leave as he has a contract which clearly says the office is his. They spend a couple of days arguing over the space, and during one of these heated encounters they are joined by a third man, who is there for a date with Layla. It seems her father had set up an online profile for her, telling everyone on the site that his daughter “needed a husband right away.” Realizing that her dad will be too busy working on his recovery to accompany Layla on these dates and determined that what happened to his sister won’t happen to her, Sam offers Layla a deal. They will share the office while he vets all the prospective grooms her father set up for her. If she doesn’t find a husband among them, he’ll leave. If she does find a husband, she’ll leave.
Rom-coms come in a variety of different flavors and the essence of this one is definitely screwball. I’ll talk about the serious holes in the plot later, but I don’t think the author was trying for a heartfelt story full of relatable characters living their best lives. The focus seems to be on the laughs and on the heat. From the beginning, Sam and Layla are deeply attracted to each other and innuendo-laden barbs, sexy banter, smoldering chemistry and great sex is the core of their relationship. Real life? Not quite part of the fabric of this novel.
That’s never more obvious than in how the whole ‘work’ aspect of the tale is handled. Without filing any papers, creating a logo, or pretty much doing anything but moving into an office that isn’t legally hers, Layla starts a ‘business’. Shockingly, at the end of two weeks, she learns “the employers I’ve targeted are either using online services or they’re working with other agencies.” Imagine that! Due diligence would have told her whether there was a need for her in the market, but in the world she lives in, one just hangs a proverbial shingle on the door and viola! You own your own company. Oh, and you take time for yourself. Haven’t been able to get your new business launched in two weeks? Head to the theater to catch an afternoon showing of a movie because that’s okay when you’re “self-employed in a business that (you) can’t seem to get off the ground”.
Sam is simultaneously the kind of guy who can sit across from a desperate person and fire them without losing a wink of sleep, but can’t evict the squatter he has in his office because she’s just so vulnerable and cute. Even when she adds a crazy cousin as a secretary who has a misbehaving emotional support dog, he can’t force this poor girl full of dreams out on her butt with no job. Wait, doesn’t he do that for a living? Like much of this story you will just have to accept this dichotomy and move on.
Because a secretary who insults the person paying the rent and a dog peeing on office chairs isn’t kooky enough, the blind dates set up by Layla’s father add yet more campy humor to the text. From a man pretending to be a CIA agent to an Indian mobster, Mr. Patel manages to find the craziest, most chauvinistic jerks in his community and arranges for them to meet his beloved daughter. These little vignettes not only add an extra touch of whimsy to our tale, but also give the hero and heroine the chance to flex their liberal creds, letting the wannabe grooms know they shouldn’t expect their future wives to be virginal, willing to cook or anxious to take care of the kids while the men develop their careers.
Naturally, as Layla and Sam are discovering just how wrong these men are for her, they are subconsciously (and sometimes consciously) realizing how perfect they are for each other. She brings out his sensitive, playful, caring side and reconnects him to the aspects of his traditional Indian culture that he threw aside after his sister’s arranged marriage ended so badly. He reminds her that there are positive aspects to having someone watch out for you and that there are men out there who respect an independent, opinionated woman.
The Patel family are the primary secondary characters, and they are all quirky, in an amiable, lovable style which makes them fit nicely into the narrative. Sam’s family and friends are more serious, sensible people who make key vignettes in the text to impart wisdom to the hero and balance the wackier aspects of the tale.
After all this snarking you are probably wondering why this book doesn’t have a lower grade and the answer is simple – while screwball comedy might not be my cuppa, a lot of people do like it and those who do should definitely give The Marriage Game a try. Readers who enjoy lighthearted, zany romances with plenty of heat will find a lot to love here.