Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet. From this beginning, the story of a mixed-race family in the 70s unfolds, spinning outwards as the discovery of the favored child’s death affects everyone.
This will be a very difficult book for me to review. Let me start with this disclaimer: I did not personally enjoy this book, though at the same time, I think it is a good book. This is far outside my normal reads. I don’t usually enjoy historical fiction, straight literary fiction, or books where the narrator shifts on a whim from character to character. The book is good, but I am not the intended audience, and even a good book in a category I don’t really enjoy is not going to make for an enjoyable experience for me. So why keep reading? Two reasons.
First, I learned a lot from the book. There were some interesting historical stuff in here that I didn’t know. For example, I’d never heard of rabbit tests for pregnancy before, and I spent some time researching that. I do like learning these kinds of tidbits. There was also a lot about the cultural history of racism against Asian people in America. I’ve read some of this before, but not enough that I feel I know much. As this sort of racism continues to this day (I have a friend in a white/Asian mixed-race family whose children get some of these same comments even now), I feel like I ought to understand better.
Second, the book was far more interesting to study and ponder after reading than it was (for me) to actually read it. I’ve had similar experiences with other books before. For example, I couldn’t stand Madame Bovary, but I loved studying it through literary analysis and having an in-depth discussion of its themes/cultural relevance/influence/etc with my book club. Sometimes books are simply more interesting to study than to read, and I found that to be the case here. I disliked just about every character in the book, except Hannah, and yet each was so fascinating to pick apart and analyze after the fact.
Back when my first son was born, his baby book asked the question, “What are your dreams for your child?” My answer was that I refused to put any dreams on him, because I didn’t want to accidentally give him burdens instead. I’d had some experience already with what happened to children whose parents tried to force them to live out their own dreams, as Lydia’s do with her. I thought about this, and about how the family fractured because of Marilyn’s short abandonment, and about the causes for lost dreams in the first place, and about how roles for women are slowly changing, and how some parents despise the children who are most like them while other parents love those children the most. I thought about the ways that each member of the family carried a kind of traumatic memory behavior pattern, and how that pattern influenced the silence that created a false life around them. I was not exactly happy about the knowledge that through Marilyn’s choices, she constructed the downfall of so many people, when it feels like that blame ought to be spread out a bit more. I didn’t like her being the center of it all, in the end.
In other words, the book got me to think, and while it may not have been the most pleasurable read for me, I did enjoy the studying of it afterwards, and maybe that’s enough.