Shanghai Girls

Judy is checking books off her reading list

J’s been checking books off her reading list:

Maybe because I’m supposed to be writing a research dissertation right now that I am in the mood to read fiction. Maybe it’s human nature to want to do the opposite of what you’re supposed to do, which for me is to read when I’m supposed to write. In my defense, I have a pretty good introduction completed. The methodology section is mostly wrapped up. Even my Appendix A is in good shape. It’s the literature review. The storyline. The creative part, I’m having trouble with.  In that sense, I’ve always been more of a consumer than a producer. So to make myself feel better and more productive, I thought I’d write a literature review for my Weekly Reader friends.  Nothing special, just books off my list available at the library when I was looking for amusing diversion.

images-1Shanghai Girls– Good historic fiction about two Chinese sisters who are young and pretty models living a life of high fashion, fabulous clubs, and famous friends, in the “Paris of Asia” in the late 1930s, until they find out their father married them off to pay his gambling debts. Life’s cruel to them from that point on as the story follows them from the Japanese bombing of their city, across the sea to their months in internment once reaching the U.S shore, to finally making a home in LA with the strangers that are their husbands. Glimpses into the Chinese culture were fascinating, even if the story itself had one disaster after another too many in my opinion.

images-2The Middlesteins– A family, each member with his or her own neuroses, centered around the mom, Edie’s, obesity.  And of course, Edie’s appetite represents more than a hunger for food. It’s a yearning for love and comfort in all forms. Each character in the story has an obsession, something that could be seen as ugly about them. At the same time all of them are loveable to someone, in some way. Edie, who’s husband leaves her because of her weight and her unwillingness to take care of her health, finds love and romance with a Chinese chef who needed someone to cook for after his wife died. He is delighted with Edie and her appetite and cooks her all the dumplings she will eat. Edie’s daughter, Robin, is an alcoholic. Her daughter-in-law, Rachelle, a control freak. Her son, Ben, a pot-head…and so on. To haul out an oldie, but a goody…the Middlesteins put the fun in family dys-fun-ction.  If you don’t see a tiny bit of yourself or your own family in the characters of this story, then lucky you.

imagesPotboiler– I admit it, I read this one because of the name. What a great name for a mystery. The beginning of this book was fantastic. Two college friends work for the college newspaper. One known as the scholarly one, the writer, and the other is the businessman, the advertising chief. Both of them are in love with the same girl. Writer waits for the relationship to unfold, but in the meantime, Businessman and Girl fall in love and get married. That’s the beginning of the end of the friendship. Writer goes on to publish one novel. It was a minor literary success, but it sold badly. He becomes an adjunct professor at a no-name college on the east coast. There is a waiting list for his class because of his modest fame, but the truth is he has not been able to produce more than a few strained pages of drivel here and there since his first novel. He’s struggling just to pay his bills. Businessman becomes a best-selling crime novelist making millions and lives in LA. Writer’s jealousy killed what was left of the friendship.

Twenty years later, in the present day, Businessman dies in a boating accident and his body is lost at sea. After a month, the search is called off and his widow (remember, Writer was in love with her) calls and asks him to come for the memorial service. While in LA, he sleeps with the widow, steals the last unpublished but mostly finished manuscript of the dead husband, goes back home, rewrites it a little, sells it with a three-book deal, makes millions, and goes on a cross-country book tour. He avoids the widow for as long as he can. He’s sure she’ll put two and two together, or probably already has. When he finally sees her, she doesn’t say a word about the theft except congratulations on his success. Then they shack up.

Now Writer has two problems:  First…he cannot figure out if she really doesn’t know he stole the book, knows and doesn’t care, or knows and is planning on using it against him somehow in the future. Second…he’s got publishers breathing down his neck for his next book and he’s only realizing now, that he’s not a very good writer. He cannot come up with the next story line. He’s desperate. He’s mining students’ old papers for ideas, ready to plagiarize again. If you’re the reader, you’re also thinking he may have a third problem… the husband’s body was never found !

It was at this point I said out loud “This is a GREAT book.” And that’s exactly when it went south too. For me anyway. Read on if you want. But don’t expect more of the same.

So…what have you been reading?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *