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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Friday, January 2, 2015

Abandonment and the novel

In the end, Celeste Ng's Everything I Never Told You isn't a book for me, but I think others might enjoy this novel more, women readers in particular, and it's clear she's a good writer who will write other fine books (this is her first). The extent to which you'll like the book will depend on whether you can buy into the behavior of the characters in the troubled Lee family; Ng's novel focuses on the women of the family, whose bad mothering is like a curse passed down across the generations. She also focuses on the isolation that the family members feel, particularly in the small Ohio town in which they settle, largely because they are one of the only bi-racial families in the community (the father is Chinese-American). The mother, Marilyn, is particularly odd and I found one of the central episodes in her life, her nine-week abandonment of her husband and two children to re-enroll in college w/ the goal of medical school, just very hard to fathom: these sudden abandonments, by seemingly intelligent and responsible mothers or wives, happen more in literature (and film) than in life: This novel kind of a Gone Girl meets Lovely Bones (central episode is the death of the older daughter, Lydia), but you can also see the sudden-abandonment story in The Lowland, e.g. As to the death of Lydia, Ng fills in the background very thoroughly but I keep waiting for more action in the foreground, for the brother, Nath, to confront the suspect in her death, whom he oddly declines to discuss with the investigating police officers. Plenty of good material here and much fine writing throughout but I could never quite enter into the world of these characters and their lives.

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