SERVING CRAZY WITH CURRY by Amulya Malladi. Ballantine Books. Paperback, 272 pages. $12.95. www.ballantinebooks.com, www.amulyamalladi.com

Malladi’s third novel opens with a sui-cide attempt. Depressed from having a miscarriage and losing her Silicon Valley job, Devi Venturi wants to end it all. Her mother, on a fortuitous trip to deliver mangoes, stops by unannounced, saving Devi. After “the incident” as the attempted suicide becomes known, Devi does not speak and instead takes up cooking, wondering if through her innovative recipes (like adding blueberries to a classic chicken curry), she is now “creating her own identity by cooking her own kind of food.”

Set in the Bay Area, Serving Crazy with Curry catapults readers into a family drama that spans three generations of four women: Devi, her caustic sister Shoba, nagging mother Saroj, and feisty grandmother Vasu. Anger, regret, and resentment in their relationships bind the women and propel the book forward. Devi is jealous of Shoba for having it all. Shoba, on the other hand, despite being a VP of engineering for a software company, and married to a Stanford professor in a wedding “held with great pomp and show at the Livermore Temple followed by a lavish dinner at the San Jose Reception Center,” is actually terribly unhappy. While Devi is free to date and sleep with whomever she would like to, Shoba is trapped in a passionless marriage. She admires Devi because “There was no pressure on Devi to be anyone but herself.”

While at first the intense anger the women hold against one another may seem unfounded, as the novel progresses, Malladi humanizes even the most unlikable characters. In this regard, she is a gifted storyteller. Throughout the many plot twists: death, betrayal, romance, a surprise ending, readers can and want to follow along because the prose is so easy to read and the characters so well-developed. Malladi maintains a sense of humor throughout a novel spun from the aftermath of a somber event.

The weakest parts of the novel occur outside the engaging family drama. Devi, now “the mute in the kitchen,” writes in a cookbook journal. Unfortunately, her entries seem so aware of their audience as to come off inconsistent—a mix of writing to herself and telling readers how to concoct a particular dish. The result is that these inserts sound like pandering to an audience interested in Indian cuisine rather than the story of an Indian-American family.

At its best Serving Crazy with Curry is both candid and caring. As the family learns to be more honest with one another, broken relationships begin to heal, and love, joy, and humor emerge in places where only resentment and complacency existed. Though the novel begins with a desperate note written in solitude, it ends with lightheartedness and camaraderie, with a family trying to look toward an uncertain future honestly, without being trapped by regrets of the past.

—Roseanne Pereira