After a somewhat, let’s say, meandering first couple hundred pages of the story, the pace picked up quite a bit once the focus shifted to Violet’s mother, Lucretia/Lucia/Lulu Minturn-Danner. Finally getting to see her through her own eyes rather than those of a seven to fourteen year old girl answered a great many questions for me. At first switching out of Violet’s story to tell Lucia’s irritated me. I didn’t really understand the placement until I got to the end of the book. After Violet escapes from Moon Pond Village with Magic Gourd and Pomelo and a whole bunch of Perpetual’s money, the phase of her life in which she lives in isolation from her mother is ending, and it was actually a really good time to introduce the reader to Lucia. I would not say that say that she had an easy go of it in her formative and early adult years, but I do think that Violet had it rougher. Lucia chooses to run a courtesan house; she is not forced into servitude as a teenager like her daughter is. She chooses her many lovers; she is not sold to the man who pays the most money. On the other hand, Violet loses a great love, but still ends up with her first love in the end; while Lucia never has a great love, just a baby-daddy who disappoints her continually for decades. And they both lose children, but Violet knows that her daughter is alive somewhere, while Lucia thinks Violet is dead for most of the book.
This book is unique in the Amy Tan cannon because it deals more with the absence of mother-daughter relationships in the lives of our characters than with the actual relationships themselves. The more I think about what Tan does in this book, creating the internal lives of two women who have their connections with their mothers, and then with their own daughters, severed in varying degrees of violence, the more I think that this is potentially a pretty difficult thing for a woman to do with any degree of realism. Perhaps I am wrong about that, and I’m overestimating the author’s skills in this respect, but I hope I’m right, because I want to have actually come up with an original insightful thought about a book. I feel like I haven’t done that in a long time.
But I digress. The Valley of Amazement ended up being better than I thought it would be initially, and I’m glad of that, because I have fond memories of the Amy Tan books I read in high school and college, and I wanted to enjoy this book as much as I remember enjoying those. It’s a good story, though it takes a while to gather momentum, and I still think it could have been shorter. I think people who enjoy “woman books” would enjoy this one quite a bit, and historical fiction/romance fans too. The relationships women have with men definitely take a back seat to the relationships women have with other women in this book, but it still reads like a bit like a romance to me. That’s not a fault, really; lots of readers enjoy romances. I’ve tended to look down on them myself, but I have enjoyed the novels I’ve read with a bit of romance sprinkled in for fluffiness, like The Winter Sea. I’m going to do a (hopefully) quick read next, Armistead Maupin’s The Days of Anna Madrigal, the purported last of the Tales of the City books. As I’m sure you remember from the last time I reviewed one of Maupin’s books, I’ve loved this series since I was a junior or senior in high school, since I saw the first mini-series version of the show on PBS. More later…. Super excited about this one.