Nine people are in a basement Visa office when an earthquake strikes and traps them inside. They are unable to escape as the basement slowly floods, and are short on food, water, and good air. Several of them have injuries, and no one trusts anyone else. In order to try to lessen some of the panic and tension while they wait to be rescued, one girl suggests they each tell a story from their lives.
At first when I opened this book, I worried that I would react as I’ve been reacting to most of the modern lit I’ve tried to read in the past couple months. I worried it would bore me and I’d put it down after twenty pages. I didn’t want to do that because I know Erin loved this book and I won it from her. I wanted to give it a real chance. Happily, I was engrossed in the story immediately. It was fast-paced, captivating, and interesting. I loved learning about each person’s life one by one, and in fact one of my only complaints is that the book didn’t go deep enough into each character! I wanted more. More depth, more emotion, more character.
At first I had some issues with the writing style, which would change from third to first person POV at intervals depending on the story being told, and the same with past and present tense. I would have preferred it to stay all in the same POV and tense, but after about halfway through the book, I honestly stopped noticing altogether, that was how interested I was in the story and characters. Each person was fascinating, though I was particularly enamoured with Malathi, Cameron, and Lily’s stories. Their experiences touched me the most.
The book’s end, though…it felt unfinished. I know it was meant to be ambiguous and meaningful and all that, but that didn’t work with this book for me. The book’s depth was more on par with commercial fiction than literary fiction, so I felt like a true ending would have been better for the story. I didn’t really feel like there was a lot to think about in literary terms, and so a very literary ending felt out of place, like there was just a chapter missing. That was frustrating and the only real major issue I had with the book. I didn’t hate the ending, though. I just felt a little unbalanced by it, much the same way I felt at the end of Will Grayson, Will Grayson (though of course it’s a very different type of book).
But over all, despite the ending, this was a very good book. I think Divakaruni did very well with the panic elements of the story, as well as the intimacy that grew between strangers who had been very hostile towards each other in the beginning. As the characters were forced by the rising water into smaller spaces, closer together, they form stronger bonds with each other. My favorite moment was when one of the characters realizes that people have secretly added to the food supply from their personal hidden stash. That moment filled me with hope. Whether or not they are rescued, this catastrophe (eventually) brought out the best in them all. That was a lovely thing to read.