If you are on a desert island and you only had one choice of milk, would it be oat or almond?
What do you put in your smoothie besides acai, cherimoya, guarana, maca, and a dash of reishi? Banana and milk – cow’s milk, mind you – if you don’t want to be branded a “bougie.”
These and other effervescent concerns of the Southern California millennial and Gen Z population form the backdrop of Sheila Yasmin Marikar’s debut novel, The Goddess Effect. Set in Los Angeles, the novel is a “comic coming of age story” about the protagonist, Anita Kathlikar, a floundering journalist turned self-seeker in search of Zen and her soul.
As the novel opens, we meet Anita on a plane from New York to Los Angeles, having quit a steady job with a leading broadcast company, to make a new life for herself in a new city, in the hopes of finding new friends and a new career. She is chasing her dream job as a culture writer with a hot new digital media company, ironically called Gonzo, a term for a journalistic style of writing bordering on the fictional, bizarre and even crazy.
About as sorted in life as Bridget Jones, Anita quickly gets sucked into the world of artifice, rubbing shoulders with desperate housewives clad top-to-toe in Lululemons, and racking up credit card debt in order to keep up appearances.
On The Run
Anita loves to run for fitness, but seems to be constantly on the run in her life as well, running from her career in New York, her Indian heritage, and a broken relationship. Yet, she has no idea what she is running towards.
What she runs smack into is The Goddess Effect, a boutique wellness studio with an uber rich clientele, and an owner-cum-lifestyle guru with a celestial name like Venus von Turnen, who, as it turns out, has a murky past.
There are sweeping symbols of cultural appropriation where Venus urges her clients to “harness your inner Lakshmi”, capitalizing on Hinduism, as the cohort members sweat it out to the beats of Killing in Thy Name by Rage Against the Machine.
“The book is intended to be a cultural critique about the current wellness industry, which attracts rich housewives and the millennial population,” says Marikar. The contemporary wellness market is flourishing, she believes, “due to the communal need for belongingness in an age where people are leading more secular lives.”
The subject was inspired by Marikar’s own experiences in Los Angeles over the past decade. Like Anita, she too started as a broadcast journalist at ABC News, where she served for several years before turning to freelance journalism, and then book writing.
“As a fitness junkie, I loved trying out new workouts, always searching for that one new method that was going to change things for me in a way that the other ones hadn’t. I was really intrigued by the idea of these modern-day communes.”
People Of Color As Tokens
She also briefly comments on the subject of tokenism against people of color, when, at first, Anita’s friend, the wealthy Stacy Gibson, wife of a real estate magnate, who lives “just off 405” invites herself as Anita’s guest to a splashy Indian wedding, and cozies up to her mother to get an “immersive” experience in Indian culture. It rears its ugly head again, when later, Anita realizes that the job she landed was only because the company needed to raise its diversity numbers to dodge an impending scandal.
Both Anita and Stacy are desperately naïve, and so are easy, almost willing victims, but they are not idealists and therefore, they collect the dredges of their self-esteem, and move on in life overcoming betrayals along the way.
The barrage of cultural references to brands, trends, social media influencers, and virtual world of #hashtags and Instagram feeds, however, become exhaustive after a point. The plot doesn’t pick up pace till the 11th hour, the lead characters are sketchily drawn out, almost reduced to cardboard caricatures, while the reader is left waiting in vain for things to move along and for something to happen.
Ultimately it does, with a sinister twist to the tale. Anita comes to her senses in the nick of time, puts on her investigative journalism hat, and gets her revenge in a dramatic fashion. And she gets paid for it too! She also reconnects with her family and manages to find love in the midst of chaos.
Marikar’s comic tone is a saving grace as the book is written with dollops of self-deprecating, wry humor. Her next book is set in Northern California wine country where she explores how relationships evolve in the Indian American community between long-term friends as people grow older.
The Goddess Effect is a quick and easy read if you are in the mood for a lighthearted novel peppered with #GenZ lingo.