Seriously, you guys, Violet Minturn is the unluckiest courtesan in all of Shanghai. It’s just too much. She becomes a courtesan. Then she falls in love with an American named Edward. They have a child. They’re living together and happy. He gets the Spanish Flu. He dies. And three years later his American wife and mother-in-law show up with a claim to their daughter, Flora. Violet, in a moment of weakness after Edward dies, puts his wife’s name on Flora’s birth certificate, and starts going by the wife’s name in non-Chinese circles around Shanghai, just so Flora won’t be relegated to the same life Violet had, not because she truly wants to steal this woman’s identity. Turns out the joke is on Violet, when the wife shows up and claims Flora as her legal daughter and takes her to America. Yes, that actually just happened. And then she’s kicked out of the house she has been living in and finds herself drawn back into the only life she’s known: she goes back to being a courtesan. And that’s where we are. I just summarized one hundred and fifty pages of an almost six-hundred page novel in less than two-hundred words. I’m trying not to harp on the possibly poor editing of The Valley of Amazement much more, because, yes, I think this book could be shorter, but the pages are going quickly, and I am not finding fault with the writing. Violet is a pretty good narrator, and Tan has done a good job of depicting her gradually increasing maturity as she struggles through one difficulty after another in her life. It is just the degree of her suffering that I take exception to. It’s just too much for one person to bear, and it’s getting hard to read. I’ve been sneaking peeks ahead in the book to try to figure things out because I need to prepare myself, much like when I read spoilers for The Walking Dead, to my friend Jenni’s dismay. I can’t help it. I’d rather be upset about something I know happened than stressed out about what I’m imagining might be happening. But I spend enough of my time talking about The Walking Dead these days, so no more Rick Grimes and friends for me tonight.
I’ve finally figured out why I have always enjoyed Amy Tan’s novels: she writes very realistic female voices, even if the situations they find themselves in are progressively more absurd. She also does an amazing job at writing mother-daughter relationships, which is a relationship that has long fascinated me, as the longest relationship I’ve been in is my relationship with my mother, and I love to read stories that have mothers and daughters interacting. In The Valley of Amazement, there are many such relationships: Violet with her actual mother Lulu; Violet with Magic Gourd, her attendant and dear friend/surrogate mother; Lulu with Golden Dove, her partner at the house; Violet and her daughter Flora; eventually I know we are going to see Lulu and her mother as well, which I’m looking forward to actually reading.
Hopefully I’ll get to have a read-most-of-Friday Friday tomorrow, and will be able to make enough progress to actually have something to say on Saturday. Wish me luck.