...beautifully wrought, frequently funny, gently heartbreaking debut novel ... Moving forward and back in time, Jacob balances comedy and romance with indelible sorrow, and she is remarkably adept at tonal shifts. When her plot springs surprises, she lets them happen just as they do in life: blindsidingly right in the middle of things ... Jacob uses all of her senses, too. Scent, that powerful unlocker of memories, is unusually present in ways both amusing — as when a 1982 prep-school assembly smells of 'hair shampooed with Vidal Sassoon' — and wrenching.
At over 500 pages, Jacob’s novel attempts a lot. She explores the emotional life of the voluntary immigrant ... The book is also a meditation on grief and the guilt that so often attends it ... At times, Jacob’s writing is less than polished, and she moves toward an ending that’s perhaps too neat and happy for the story that preceded it. However, the book is always engrossing and often feels so true to life that it’s a surprise that it’s not.
Jacob skillfully weaves together the lush landscapes of Kerala with the arid environs of New Mexico; an old world familial household buckling under expectations and tradition, and a family developing its own traditions in a new world. The book is filled with light moments, as Jacob infuses the story and her characters with wit and humor. She has an ear for dialogue, which is challenging in a book that spans continents and generations ... I consider The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing to be as Indian a narrative as Eugenides’s Middlesex is Greek: they both give a nod to their respective cultures for context and yet they are both essentially stories of modern American life ... My one gripe with the book is that we learn almost nothing about Kamala’s background.
Jacob's characters have a lot of fight in them, but they are also possessed of rather more capacity for inflection, for irony and for nuance. That conclusion holds true even when otherwise estimable characters take refuge behind a protective wall resembling 'a set of monster's dentures fallen from some other world and forgotten.' Those dentures illustrate Jacob's somewhat quirky, loaded-up style ... Jacob does consistently better at descriptions than at dialogue. The reader is advised by the author how emotions work, rather than having the characters tell you themselves ... Her characters do have depth, but theirs is an oddly plotted and plumbed depth. They often become more affecting when they wander away into bizarre tangents, like an ageing lady convinced that movie stories continue in some private, off-screen world ... The fall Jacob imagines is too vertiginous for luxuries like a truly happy ending.
Jacob’s darkly comic debut—about a photographer’s visit to her parents’ New Mexico home during a family crisis—is grounded in the specifics of the middle-class Indian immigrant experience while uncovering the universality of family dysfunction and endurance ... Comparisons of Jacob to Jhumpa Lahiri are inevitable; Lahiri may be more overtly profound, Jacob more willing to go for comedy, but both write with naked honesty about the uneasy generational divide among Indians in America and about family in all its permutations.
The author has a wonderful flair for recreating the messy sprawl of family life, with all its joy, sadness, frustration, and anger. Although overlong, the novel, through its lovingly created and keenly observed characters, makes something new of the Indian immigrant experience in America.