Late Bloomers

A Novel



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May 2, 2023 | ISBN 9780593677308

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About the Book

An Indian American family is turned upside down when the parents split up thirty-six years into their arranged marriage​ in this “heartwarming journey of self-discovery” (Southern Living).

“Touching . . . both funny and moving—a family drama the entire family can enjoy.”—Reader’s Digest


"I have a soft spot for underdogs. And late bloomers. You’ve told me a lot of things about yourself, so let me tell you something about me."

After thirty-six years of a dutiful but unhappy arranged marriage, recently divorced Suresh and Lata Raman find themselves starting new paths in life. Suresh is trying to navigate the world of online dating on a website that caters to Indians and is striking out at every turn—until he meets a mysterious, devastatingly attractive younger woman who seems to be smitten with him. Lata is enjoying her newfound independence, but she's caught off guard when a professor in his early sixties starts to flirt with her.  

Meanwhile, Suresh and Lata's daughter, Priya, thinks her father's online pursuits are distasteful even as she embarks upon a clandestine affair of her own. And their son, Nikesh, pretends at a seemingly perfect marriage with his law-firm colleague and their young son, but hides the truth of what his relationship really entails. Over the course of three weeks in August, the whole family will uncover one another's secrets, confront the limits of love and loyalty, and explore life's second chances. 

Charming, funny, and moving, Late Bloomers introduces a delightful new voice in fiction with the story of four individuals trying to understand how to be happy in their own lives—and as a family.
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Praise for Late Bloomers

“[A] hilarious novel about coming-of-age (at any age) . . .”—Chatelaine

“[A] heartwarming journey of self-discovery that finds each member of a family setting out on their own new paths.”—Southern Living

“[A] hilarious comedy of errors . . . ”Good Housekeeping

“The unexpected humor makes for a touching tale . . . Late Bloomers is both funny and moving—a family drama the entire family can enjoy.”Reader’s Digest

“This funny, charming novel will reassure you that our wrong turns often help us find our way.”Real Simple

“[A] heartwarming debut novel.”PureWow

Bloomers, at times laugh-out-loud funny and at times quietly heartbreaking, is an intricate novel about people who rediscover themselves. Or perhaps, by being honest with themselves and with each other, discover themselves for the very first time.”Shelf Awareness

Late Bloomers follows the lives of a South Indian‒American family as they deal with love in all its permutations. Deepa Varadarajan deftly weaves modern-day problems like internet dating and complicated living arrangements with the eternal yearning for acceptance and the ageless desire to live up to family expectations.”—Katherine Heiny, author of Early Morning Riser and Games and Rituals

Late Bloomers is about love won and lost and rearranged and rediscovered . . . Varadarajan writes about the everyday life of the Raman family with so much humor and affection that she makes the ordinary feel extraordinary. I adore this family and I adore this book.”—Whitney Otto, author of How to Make an American Quilt

“Deepa Varadarajan’s debut novel is funny, heartbreaking, engrossing, surprising, and smart. Late Bloomers tells the story of the Raman family, beginning after the children have grown up. I never knew what would happen next and I absolutely loved that about this beautiful book.”—Marcy Dermansky, author of Hurricane Girl and Very Nice

“A stirring, tender novel about the bonds and binds between families and strangers. Varadarajan poignantly delivers a page-turner in which both the young and the not so young have to reconfigure expectations and forge new pathways in order to find fulfillment. Late Bloomers asks what it means to be a family—a happy family—in a rapidly changing world, and offers promising answers.”—Soniah Kamal, author of Unmarriageable

“Varadarajan has written her characters with intelligence and compassion, imbuing them with complexity . . . Warm, hopeful, often charming. The Ramans are an idiosyncratic oasis in the world of literary unhappy families.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Varadarajan debuts with an endearing exploration of an Indian American family’s search for new beginnings. . . . These strong voices leave an indelible mark.”—Publishers Weekly

“Readers looking for new fictional friends to cherish will be smitten with the Ramans from page one.”Booklist
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Late Bloomers



All these internet women lie, I tell you. All of them. Funny that the anonymity draws everyone in. But it’s also what keeps you from trusting a word.

Sometimes the lies are about the fundamentals: previous marriages, whether they have kids, what line of work they’re in. Oh, and age. Age is a big one. The last date I went on was with a woman whose profile said forty-­one. Impossible! There wasn’t a chance that Ms. Mittal (formerly Mrs. Mittal) was a day under fifty.

My son, Nikesh, laughed at me when I told him about that one. “But, Dad,” he said, “you are fifty-­nine.” Well that may be, but I didn’t go around grossly exaggerating for sport. I was more reasonable about it all. On my profile, I described myself as “Suresh Raman, a healthy and active, five-­foot-­ten, fifty-­five-­year-­old divorced man of Indian origin.”

All right, so fifty-­five was four years ago, the height was a rough estimate, and “active” was only an accurate description if it included toenail-­clipping while watching CNN in my carpeted den. But these were reasonable deviations from the truth. RDTs, I called them. So long as you kept it reasonable, where was the harm, really?

It was early evening now. I parked my SUV in front of a small, white brick house. I had to quash my misgivings—­for the next few hours, at least. I reminded myself: This was a first date, a new woman, a clean slate.

I sniffed under my arms. Good, still powdery fresh. I’d left my house in Clayborn, Texas, three hours ago, but I blasted the AC the entire drive to Austin. Whatever my doubts about lying internet women, I’d never want a date to see unsightly wet patches blooming across my shirt.

I checked my reflection in the rearview mirror. Even at this hour, the late-­August sun beamed harsh and unforgiving. My eyebrows looked like two furry worms wriggling around a pockmarked forehead. I licked my forefinger and tried pasting down the errant hairs. But it was useless. Hairs kept popping up in every direction. Oh well. Perhaps the restaurant would be dim and Mallika wouldn’t notice the unruly duo dancing above my eyelids.

Mallika. We’d been emailing each other for two weeks. Now, this one did not seem like a liar. I couldn’t be sure, of course, as I’d yet to see her in the flesh. At the moment, she was still three parts fantasy to one part reality—­a concoction of my hazy, lonely brain. Though given the mendacious tendencies of these internet women, it was hard to maintain any fantasy for long.

Mind you, this wasn’t just abstract cynicism talking. It came from months of experience. And in my months of experience, I’d learned that even when these internet women weren’t lying about important things, like age, then they were lying about ridiculous things—­things I wouldn’t have even cared about had they told me the truth. But when I discovered they’d lied about it, I had to assume it meant something.

Last month, for example, I went out with this divorced real estate agent from Baton Rouge named Usha. She lied about all kinds of trivialities. Favorite Food: Italian.

Trusting this preference in her profile, I suggested going to the Olive Garden on our first date. It had been a tiring six-­hour drive from Clayborn to Baton Rouge, but I wanted to show her that I was sensitive to this detail about her—­that I cared enough to remember. Upon hearing my suggestion, she shrugged and explained that Italian wasn’t really her favorite. She wanted a steak. Feeling rebuked, I asked her why she didn’t just say “steak” on her profile. She replied that she was afraid of scaring the divorced and widowed Hindu vegetarian men from answering.

Now, I wasn’t an unsympathetic man. Or a vegetarian. And while I questioned the sanity of anyone who enjoyed masticating thick slabs of beef, I understood that a forty-­two-­year-­old divorcée with two teenage kids needed to expand her pool of possibilities in any way she could. Only that wasn’t all.

Over the course of that evening, which began and ended at Matthew’s Steakhouse, I discovered that in the dozen emails and phone conversations leading up to our fateful meeting, she’d lied about her car (a Honda not a Volvo), her glasses prescription for nearsightedness (minus four, not minus two), her tennis elbow (she didn’t even own a racket), and her subscription to National Geographic (ha!). None of those things in isolation would have caused me to do more than raise a puzzled eyebrow. But read together, the insignificance of those lies added up to one significant thing: She was a liar.

There had been countless such evenings. During the long (and sometimes multistate) drive back home, when disappointment sat in the back of my throat like undigested food, I’d say to myself: “Enough, old man, enough of this silly business.” But at such moments, I too was a liar. For within minutes of pulling into my garage, I’d head straight for the buzzing glow of my computer. I’d check for new responses, answer the promising ones, and update my profile—­the three-­step ritual that had become second nature to me, like the windshield-­to-­rearview-­mirror-­to-speedometer visual reflex of driving.

Nikesh called me “hooked.” I’d describe my dating mishaps to him, and he’d say, “If they’re so bad, then stop; or just stay local, at least.”

Local? What was the point of trying to meet an Indian woman in Clayborn? They were all friends with my ex-­wife Lata, who’d left me, and would therefore be biased against me. And a non-­Indian woman? That was too foreign to contemplate. But I didn’t say any of this to my son. Instead, I’d meekly reply, “You’re right—­this is the last one. No more.” But he wouldn’t believe me. He’d chuckle and chide, “You’re hooked, Dad.”

He was right. I had yet to go on a good date, but I wasn’t ready to stop.

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see a curtain flutter in the front window of Mallika’s house, a ripple of black hair against the glass. Was Mallika peeking out? Was she wondering why I hadn’t gotten out of the car yet, hadn’t crossed the dried expanse of lawn to her front door?

I thumbed my brows one last time. I ran my palms over my grayed—­but mostly full—­head of hair. I unbuckled my seatbelt, leaned forward and then fell back again, my back hitting the leather with a loud smack. Why couldn’t I sit here for just a little while longer? Just a few more moments to savor the Mallika of my hopeful imaginings and delay the inevitable disappointment.

For a second, I considered pulling out my phone and dialing Nikesh. I could ask him to tell me a joke and lighten my spirits. But then, maybe I shouldn’t bother him at this hour. Six o’clock in Texas meant it was seven for Nikesh in New York. He would likely be busy—­either at work late, or giving Alok a bath, or coaxing him into bed.

It startled me sometimes to think that Nikesh, my youngest, was no longer so young—­no longer that spindle-­legged teenager with an unruly mop of hair, but a thirty-­year-­old man with an eleven-­month-­old son of his own, working long hours at a prestigious Manhattan law firm. My grandson, Alok, was by all accounts a sweet-­tempered boy like his father. Thankfully, he’d inherited none of the Nordic sternness of his mother, Denise, a woman that neither I nor Lata had even met before Nikesh married her—­correction, before he eloped with her, telling us about it only after the fact. No doubt Lata was still licking her wounds from the shock of their elopement. For my part, though, I was relieved not to publicly perform the role of delighted father of the groom. At least Nikesh had spared me the indignity of reciting some fraudulent speech about the joys of marriage in a Hilton ballroom, while our friends (Lata’s friends, mostly) squirmed and Lata glowered behind me.

In truth, I couldn’t find much fault with Nikesh. Oh sure, he might tease me now and then for being hooked on internet dating. But at least he was indulgent and kind to his aging, addled, romantic-­idealist father.

My eldest, Priya, on the other hand, hurled harsher words my way: post–midlife crisis; act your age; ridiculous; embarrassment.

I tried not to take it too personally. It had been almost a year since Lata moved out, but the wound was still raw for my daughter, a thirty-­five-­year-­old history professor in Austin. Oh sure, give her macro-­level changes—­civil wars, fallen empires, mass famine, and pestilence—­those were her bread and butter, she couldn’t get enough. But throw some micro-­level change her way, and she turned on you.

About the Author

Deepa Varadarajan
Deepa Varadarajan lives in Atlanta with her husband and two children. She is a legal academic and a graduate of Yale Law School. She grew up in Texas and received her BA from the University of Texas at Austin. Her short fiction has appeared in The Georgia Review and Colorado Review, and her legal scholarship has appeared in The Yale Law Journal and many other publications. Late Bloomers is her first novel. More by Deepa Varadarajan
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