three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
13-Nov-Dec-2004
By: 
Gish Jen
user_rating: 
0

A-LoveWifeCarnegie Wong is burdened with more than just an unwieldy name. His self-made immigrant mother (who escaped from China by swimming to Hong Kong with a basketball under each arm) has prodded him to financial success, and wants the same level of control over his love life. When he brings All-American Jane Bailey home, Mama bitterly opposes "Blondie." But Carnegie and Jane, along with their two adopted daughters and biological son, forge ahead and find domestic bliss. Mama’s death soon shatters their happiness. Along with a handsome inheritance, she leaves Carnegie and Jane with Lan, a nanny from China. But is Lan just there to impress Chinese culture on the Wong’s children, or did Mama have other plans?
Knopf. 379 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 1400042135

Miami Herald 4 of 5 Stars
"The Love Wife shares all the wonderful attributes of Jen’s other books but is deeper, richer, darker, far more complex and mature." Susan Miron

Hartford Courant 3.5 of 5 Stars
"She lets each character speak in turn, telling and retelling certain incidents and commenting on each other’s testimony. This seems artificial at first, but soon adds an operatic richness, as aria after aria interweaves and propels the story along." Carole Goldberg

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Ultimately, the book becomes a tale about family love and commitment in an era of political correctness and our society’s at-times awkward embrace of multiculturalism. At heart, the novel demonstrates with vividness and wit how a decision to love can be equally, if not more, lasting as the biological impetus to love." Bernadette Murphy

New York Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"In the last third of the novel Ms. Jen unfortunately exchanges the character-driven developments of the earlier part of her story for melodramatic plot gymnastics. … [W]hile none of these events are very plausible, Ms. Jen’s delineation of her characters remains so assured, her ear for their conversation so pitch-perfect, that the reader never really minds." Michiko Kakutani

Kansas City Star 2 of 5 Stars
"But Jen’s writing—so disciplined when it comes to characterization and setting—is not disciplined enough to know when to stop. In the last few chapters Jen introduces several plot twists and turns, until the book has cut a sinuous new course that diverges from the general direction of the novel." Katie Volin

Washington Post 1.5 of 5 Stars
"Jen is an unassailably talented writer, but her strong prose only brings the underdeveloped state of her characters into even sharper focus. … Otherwise she appears trapped within self-imposed strictures, within an almost pessimistic view of how ethnic characters should be allowed to behave, and her ethnic people, by their nature, are allowed to reveal only microcosmic axioms." Y. Euny Hong

Critical Summary

Jen’s third novel (Typical American, Mona in the Promised Land) draws a wide range of opinions, from the glowing to the bitter. One common thread is appreciation for Jen’s prose, although it plays like a safety valve in the negative reviews, as if the writers had to find something to like. The multiple first-person narrators provide perspective and richness, as does Jen’s bighearted insight into the cultural divide. Yet, even the positive reviews struggle to reconcile the first two thirds of the book with the plot twists at the end. Jen’s move towards more serious subject matter provokes reviewers to tag The Love Wife as a more mature work. The question remains whether maturing is all it’s cracked up to be.