And…. There’s a very good chance I was right in my last post about The Valley of Amazement when I said that when I saw the length of this book I was worried about Amy Tan having a poor editorial staff. I have spent the last thirty pages reading a treatise on how best to be a courtesan in early twentieth century Shanghai, and I have to get through six more before I can return to the primary story of the book! A few pages of Violet’s courtesan mentor telling her the basics of her new profession would have been great. Even appreciated. But thirty six pages of things like “The suitors I’ll find for you will treat you like a lily made of white jade. A few will even be so overly polite you’ll be bored to tears when they seek your permission for every peek and touch (153)….” And “Yet you also cannot appear greedy and wheedle your future patron (155)….” And my favorite: “…. But if a man hints that he wishes to wear your robes or he brings out an ivory stem on a girdle, you should go behind the screen and ring the chimes for me (160)….” That’s right, almost forty pages of that nonsense.
Before I got into Chapter 4, or “Etiquette for Beauties of the Boudoir,” I was actually starting to get invested in the story a little bit. Spoiled Violet is press-ganged into a courtesan house by a former lover of her mother’s to pay off a gambling debt, and her mother is already on a ship heading to San Francisco by the time she learns of the kidnapping. Mimi will have to take a trip all the way across the Pacific before she can turn around and get back to Shanghai to rescue her daughter. But wait. No, Mimi won’t be doing that, because the ex-lover (or the gangsters he owes money to) thought of everything! They have arranged to have Mimi receive an official letter from the American Consulate in Shanghai saying that Violet died in an accident, and even go so far as to falsify a death certificate. It’s all very iron-clad, as far as I can tell, at least for 1912. And that’s basically all that’s happened so far, and I’ve read 170 pages. Things are not trucking along at a breakneck pace, that’s for sure. And the worst part of this whole thing is that I’m kind of enjoying The Valley of Amazement, despite the long-windedness. It annoys me that this book may be proof that there is indeed such a thing as too much of a good thing.
That’s it for tonight, gang. I’ll have more to say next time. I hope by then I’ll be done with the courtesan etiquette chapter….