Welcome to #ReadWithMC—Marie Claire's virtual book club. It's nice to have you! In January, we're reading Sonali Dev's The Vibrant Years, a heartfelt, multigenerational story about self-discovery, love, family, and ambition. Read an excerpt from the book below, then find out how to participate. (You really don't have to leave your couch!)
"I have a hot date tonight." It wasn't quite the way one expected their conversation with their grandmother to start, but Cullie might suspect body swapping if her Binji didn't say something firmly ungrandmotherly at least once a day. "Get on video call so you can help me choose what to wear."
It was barely nine in the morning in California, and Cullie had been up working until four. But it was almost noon in Florida, where Binji was, so Cullie blinked the sleep from her eyes and dutifully switched the call to video. And was met by a close-up of her grandmother's ample cleavage.
"Binji, your girls are all I see." Cullie couldn't remember when she'd combined her grandmother's name, Bindu, and the Marathi word for grandma, aji, and come up with Binji, but it fit her grandmother perfectly.
Binji stepped away from the phone, which she always propped on the vanity in the bathroom of her fancy new condo when she needed fashion advice from Cullie. And by "needed" Cullie meant demanded, because the aim of the exercise was somewhat more complicated than it appeared. Her grandmother was a fashionista, and Cullie was ... well, not. These sessions were meant to inspire Cullie to "live a little" and "find her inner diva."
To Cullie, that sounded like far more trouble than it was worth. At twenty-five Cullie sometimes felt like she had lived a little too much already. Done all the things people try to accomplish over their lifetime. And honestly, her inner diva just wanted to take a nap.
"Why are you still in bed?" Twirling around, Binji modeled the hot-pink wrap dress that hugged her unfairly spectacular body. "Don't the girls look great? It's this bra—it gives armor-grade support. These cutlets are like having fists shoved under the boob droop."
Cullie stretched against the high-density zoned-support mattress that was supposed to preserve the backs of deskbound workaholics. "That sounds painful. How is it fair that you look better in a fitted dress than your granddaughter? How come I didn't inherit all that."
Binji adjusted the ruched and wrapped fabric under her breasts, further magnifying the pillowy cleavage, which looked even better for the delicate lines that glazed her skin like brushstrokes on a canvas. "You did inherit my looks. You also inherited my son's insouciance, so you don't bother with the upkeep it takes to work them to your advantage. Do you know how much moisturizer has gone into this décolletage in the past two decades?" She twisted to give Cullie a view of her butt, which hadn't held up quite as well to gravity.
Sure, that might seem like a mean thought to have about your grandmother, but only to someone who couldn't see quite how stunning Binji was. No lies were necessary.
"Why don't they make bras for the bum? Cutlets are needed there too." Binji's brown-bordering-on-hazel eyes-which fortuitously Cullie had inherited and needed no upkeep-lit up. "How's that for a business idea?"
Cullie groaned. "Right. Brutts?"
"Yes! We should patent that."
Cullie rolled onto her side and propped the phone against the pillow next to her. "You sound like Ma." Because if her mother didn't turn every conversation into a lecture about "potential," she thought she'd waste away into the ether of bad parenting. "My one patent is causing me enough heartache right now."
As soon as the words slipped out, Cullie regretted them, because Binji's eyes started studying her as though Cullie were a diamond she was gauging for cut, clarity, and color.
"Don't compare me to your mother. I do not have a twig stuck up my lady parts."
"A thorny twig too, lately. Tell me about this heartache business. Is Hot Steve causing you problems again?" Moving off camera, Binji started making sounds that indicated a dress change.
"No," Cullie mumbled. When an answer was too complicated, no was the perfect stand-in. Hot Steve was not the one causing Cullie problems. Cullie was. He was just using her problems against her.
"You should never sleep with someone you work for. It should be the first lesson women are taught in school." Binji came back into the frame, this time in a flowy white eyelet dress that was substantially lower on cleavage exposure. A little less New Binji.
Through most of Cullie's childhood, her grandmother had stuck to tunics and capris, with the odd caftan or midi dress thrown in, and saris and salwar kameez brought out only for special occasions. Always fashion forward and never anything like anyone else's grandmother, but this new superhot style choice was only six months old. Six months ago, Binji had mysteriously come into some money and bought herself a fancy condo where rich white people went after retirement to enjoy, and flash, their money.
It was yet another of the many ways in which their family had changed after Cullie's parents' midlife crisis divorce. But the ease with which Binji had made the transformation was both disconcerting and oddly natural.
"How would you know, Binji? You've never worked for anyone." Must be nice, Cullie wanted to add, but Binji would only remind her that the fact that Cullie had created an app millions of people used did not give her a free pass to be arrogant. Cullie wasn't in the mood to argue the point. Because, really, it kind of did.
A flash of annoyance passed over Binji's face. But then she smiled, her upbeat self again, and spun around, displaying a back exposed all the way down to her waist, with a deftly located band of lace across the back of her bra.
"Not only did I work in the home, but I was the best homemaker of anyone I know." Binji made a face. "Wait a minute. If you consider your grandfather my boss, then, well, I did sleep with him. A lot." She got that sharp, sexy look as she appraised herself over her delicate shoulder. That look was all Binji: Old Binji and New Binji all rolled up in one. She always looked you full in the eyes, like she owned herself and she wanted you to know it. Maybe it was the contrast between her two grandmothers, but it was a look Cullie had learned to identify early in life. "Seven days a week for most of our marriage," Binji finished with a wink.
"Oh my God, Binji! TMI!" Even as Cullie yelled it, she knew the redundancy of it. As "one of the most elegant coders of her generation" (thanks for that pressure, Fortune magazine), Cullie understood redundancy if she understood anything. TMI should have been Bindu Desai's middle name-her platform if she'd been a social media influencer. Binji thrived on Too Much Information.
"JEI, Curly-Wurly! Did you know that LOL really stands for living out loud?" She tucked her sleekly bobbed hair behind her ear. She had professional highlights now, replacing her usual drugstore boxed color in dark medium brown. Another one of the changes since she'd moved into the schmancy new community.
“I’m pretty sure you're making that up. Just like you made up JEI. Just Enough Information hasn't caught on in popular culture for a reason."
"Popular culture is for sheep." Cullie mouthed it along with her grandmother as she made her favorite declaration. "Now, focus. Dress. Which one?"
Excerpted from The Vibrant Years by Sonali Dev with permission from the publisher, Mindy’s Book Studio. Copyright © 2022 by Sonali Dev. All rights reserved.
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Brooke Knappenberger is the Associate Commerce Editor at Marie Claire, where she writes across the board from fashion and beauty to books and celebrities. As a pop culture junkie, Brooke obsessively consumes and writes about the latest movie releases, streaming TV shows, and celebrity scandals. She has over three years of experience writing on fashion, beauty, and entertainment and her work has appeared on Looper, NickiSwift, The Sun US, and Vox Magazine of Columbia, Missouri. Brooke obtained her Bachelor's Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism with an emphasis on Magazine Editing and has a minor in Textile and Apparel Management.
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