Aside from Normal People click 1 click 2, my recent reads had not been such satisfying reads until I read The Love Wife by Gish Jen. The story is narrated through the Wongs who describe themselves as a “half half” family. Carnegie Wong is of Chinese heritage while his wife, Janie (nicknamed Blondie by her mother-in-law ) is Anglo-Saxon and they have two adopted daughters, Lizzy, aged 15 and Wendy aged 9 and Bailey, their 13 month-old biological child. During their rehearsal wedding dinner, Mama Wong who longs for a genuine Chinese daughter-in-law offers both Carnegie and Janie a million dollars each not to marry one another. Mama Wong never gives up even after she develops Alzheimer’s Decease. When she passes on, she leaves a will and according to her will, Lanlan, one of their relatives, presumably a cousin, has to be summoned from Mainland China to care for their children and be their nanny.
“That way the children will at least speak Chinese, not like Carnegie,” writes Mama Wong in her will.
Mama Wong is a shrewd businesswoman who always had a good return on her dollar and Lanlan is a survivor of cultural revolution. Both Mama Wong and Lanlan are pragmatic and single minded, they are immune to identity crisis unlike Carnegie, Lizzy and Wendy.
The story unfolds from a mélange of viewpoints and juxtaposition of tones as it is told by Mama Wong, Carnegie, Blondie, Lizzy, Wendy and Lanlan. It touches on identity and cross-cultural issues as the characters muse through their wisecracks what it means to be Chinese American and who they are.
In Janie aka Blondie’s voice, Gish Jen writes:
‘ What did it matter , how a family looked?
Beholding my daughters,I did not see Asians. I saw persons. I knew better than I had known my parents. I knew what it had taken to potty-train them. I knew how they reacted to being scolded, to being held, to being sung to. I knew how stubborn they were, how ingenious , how dreamy. How verbal , how physical, how dramatic. ( I need to wipe my tears before I can speak again, Lizzy used to say.) I knew their earliest heartaches. (those kids are biting my feelings, Wendy once sobbed. )
The Love Wife is a delightful and satisfying read once you adapt to the different narratives by different voices. Jish Gen is insightful and humorous. I certainly look forward to reading more of her writing.