September 23 and 24
25 minutes each day
I always though it mattered, to know what is the worst possible thing that can happen to you, to know how you can avoid it, to not be drawn in by the magic of the unspeakable. Because, even as a young child, I could sense the unspoken terrors that surrounded our house, the ones that chased my mother until she hid in a secret dark corner of her mind.
Lena St. Clair (103)
This section is pretty dark, and more than a little confusing. Lena's mother apparently lost, or was responsible for the death of, one child at some time previously. Then, in America, she bears another child, who would have been Lena's brother, and basically starts to drift away and become a living ghost. Which is what she was most afraid of. A common theme in both the mother's story and Lena's is the threat of losing yourself, crossing over between the world of the living and the world of the lost, and Lena closes her chapter with the image of a girl grabbing her mother's hand and pulling her back through the wall.
This is a chapter I feel like I need to re-read, especially the first page, where there is an odd story that also uses the motif of someone being pulled back through a wall. It all holds together somehow, but that story, an embroidered re-imagining by Lena as a child of a story she had been told by her grandfather, is hard to get my mind around.
The first part of Rose Hsu's chapter is largely about the history of her marriage to Ted Jordan, how it fell apart, and the impact of the breakup on the relationship between her and her mom. Then there is a lengthy flashback in which Rose tells how her mother lost her faith in God after the drowning death of Rose's brother Bing, for which everyone feels some degree of culpability. The two stories are connected at the end of the chapter when Rose says "I know now that I had never expected to find Bing, just as I know now that I will never find a way to save my marriage… I think about Bing, how I knew he was in danger, how I let it happen. I think about my marriage, how I had seen the signs, really I had,. But I just let it happen. And I think now that fate is shaped half by expectation, half by inattention." (130-1).
Jing-mei Woo's chapter deals mostly with her mother's attempt to discover what kind of prodigy Jing-mei would turn out to be. (Her mother seems to be actively jealous of Jing-mei's friend and rival Waverly Jong, the chess master, and looking for a way to compete.) It turns out that Jing-mei's most singular talent is for the deployment of a ferocious anger that leads her to strike out at her mother and her elevated expectations in the most devastating possible way, by throwing in her mother's face the children she was forced to leave behind.
"I wish I'd never been born. I wish I were dead! Like them."
It was as if I had said the magic words. Alakazam! —and her face went blanck, her mouth closed, her arms went slack, and she backed out of the room, stunned, as if she were blowing away like a small brown leaf, thin, brittle, lifeless. (142)
So much of this book is about the damage that the mothers and daughters inflict on each other as they try to impose their will upon each other.