Review: ‘Advika’ is for movie lovers with romance, mystery

April 11, 2023 GMT
This cover image released by Grand Central Publishing shows "Advika and the Hollywood Wives" by Kirthana Ramisetti. (Grand Central Publishing via AP)
This cover image released by Grand Central Publishing shows "Advika and the Hollywood Wives" by Kirthana Ramisetti. (Grand Central Publishing via AP)

“Advika and the Hollywood Wives” by Kirthana Ramisetti (Grand Central)

Evening. Interior. We open on an Oscars afterparty, where Advika Srinivasan is making drinks for half of Hollywood while barely holding on to a measured, service industry demeanor despite the belligerence and entitlement of the tipsy, trophy-toting guests.

But the evening takes a wild turn when a handsome producer takes an interest in Advika, marking a complete shift in the 26-year-old’s life as she falls hard for the Oscar-winning — and much older — Julian Zelding. And, let’s face it, it doesn’t hurt that he has extensive Hollywood connections that might help Advika break into the industry to become a renowned Indian American screenwriter. Almost before she knows it, Advika is married to Julian.

When Julian’s first ex-wife dies shortly after, her will promises Advika $1 million if she divorces the man. Kirthana Ramisetti’s second novel, “Advika and the Hollywood Wives,” follows Advika as she sleuths to uncover everything she can about Julian’s three ex-wives.

Given the abundance of forewarnings — like Advika and Julian’s 41-year age difference and their gaping power imbalance — it’s kind of shocking it takes this mysterious proposition from a dead actress to kick the newlywed’s curiosity into gear. But Ramisetti’s writing is persuasive and, for a while, the red flags are dismissible. The benefits of Advika’s new fling far outweigh the risks, and it’s easy to empathize with her staying when all the signs (and friends and family and the internet) point to leaving. Signs like Julian’s proposal with a “coffin-shaped diamond.” Never mind the Larry Fortensky reference and the voice of Advika’s dead twin telling her to run.

What’s that? Oh, right. Advika’s twin, Anu, died suddenly in a tragic accident two years ago. Death hangs over the text like a comfy T-shirt, loath to be shed from the first chapter all the way to the novel’s conclusion.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. While Advika often falls into the patriarchal trap of doing things and saying yes because she’s expected to, she does sometimes give a clear, resolved “no,” yanking back her agency. Cue audience applause.

With its smart, beautiful cover design, “Advika and the Hollywood Wives” is a page-turner packed with mystery, drama and romance. In a world filled with books by and for bookworms, Ramisetti has penned one for film fanatics — with a particular affinity for rom-com. Each chapter is named for a romantic comedy, creating an impressive collection spanning around 100 years. The novel plays with the medium, dipping into screenplays, text conversations and TV show excerpts, its stream of Hollywood references consistent throughout.

For better or worse, Ramisetti’s ending is also very Hollywood movie-like: The final chapters tie up an inordinate number of loose ends that honestly didn’t need tying, yet act like a key element was addressed when it wasn’t.

But hey, that’s rom-com for you.