Wednesday, October 29, 2008

the weird things people read about

The device I had been using to listen to cds in my car died this summer, and I have nearly exhausted my library's supply of books on cassette tape. Scanning the titles last week, I decided to try The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan. My wife likes Amy Tan, as do several other people I know, and she is a reasonably famous American author. Plus, I just went to China.

So, driving back and forth to western Maryland, I listened to The Bonesetter's Daughter. The story is split between the US in the 1990s and China from about 1910 to 1945. I gather this is typical for Tan. The part about China concern the travails of a Chinese girl and her family amidst family feuds, murders, suicides, civil war, revolution, the Japanese invasion, the discovery of Peking Man, and all sorts of other exciting events. There is a great deal of folklore about ghosts, curses, ghost-catchers, and traditional medicine. I loved it. The American part concerns a 40-ish woman dealing with her demented mother and trying to revive or escape from her relationship with her boyfriend. I hated it. I simply cannot imagine why anyone would want to read a fictional account of a troubled couple touring an assisted living facility where they may put one's mother. It isn't just that much of the American part is depressing -- much worse things happen in the Chinese sections. It's that the American part is both depressing and mundane.

What is the point? Because life is really like that? So? Why would I want to read about things that happen around me all the time, when I could read about exciting adventures set in exotic places? Don't get me wrong, the Chinese part of The Bonesetter's Daughter is still by Amy Tan, and it is much concerned with family dynamics and the emotions of the mostly female characters. But these are women from a culture about which I know little, engaged in life and death struggles against the backdrop of history, not San Francisco yuppies fretting over their self-inflicted psychic wounds.

Well, to each his (or her) own.

1 comment:

ArEn said...

How to say this without sounding bitchy: You will never worry about what to do with your mother; many 40ish women do worry about that kind of thing. The Tan books are not merely escapist fantasies about long ago and far away, they are also about how the long ago and far away connects to the real and mundane here and now.

One of the reasons I couldn't get through LOTR is that it had nothing to do with me at all.