Two Chapters: Lena St. Clair talking about her "Rice Husband" and the growing dissatisfaction she feels, during her mother's visit to their house, with their marriage. A quote that strikes me as being funny, sad, and apt appears on page 160:
I was putting the breakfast dishes away and Harold was warming up the car so we could go to work. And I saw the newspaper spread open on the kitchen counter, Harold's glasses on top, his favorite coffee mug with the chipped handle off to the side. And for some reason, seeing all those little domestic signs of familiarity, our daily ritual, made me swoon inside. But it was as if I were seeing Harold the first time we made love, this feeling of surrendering everything to him, with abandon, without caring what I got in return.
And when I got into the car, I still had the glow of that feeling and I touched his hand and said, "Harold, I love you." And he said, "I love you too. Did you lock the door?" And just like that, I started to think, it's not enough.
I think this passage really captures the deep ambivalence of being in a long-term relationship with someone. Lena can still remember when it was all new and she was all in. But inevitably the excitement wears off, and life together becomes routine. And the question is does that routine wind up being reassuring, or just stultifying. The rest of the chapter has Lena thinking over the financial arrangements that they agreed upon in the prenup, and worrying about whether their marriage amounts to a balance sheet. The chapter ends in another Symbolic Moment where the marble end table her husband had made that he was so proud of, despite the fact that it was unbalanced, has collapsed.
The there's "Four Directions," in which Waverly Jong comes to a realization about the relationship between her and her mother. She has gone through most of her life in conflict with her mother, blaming her for finding fault and attacking everything that Waverly values. The title of the chapter is alluded to obliquely in one of her inventories of complaint, where she is anticipating what her mother will do to break up her relationship with Rich, whom she hopes to marry:
She would be quiet at first. Then she would say a word about something small, something she had noticed, and then another word, and another, each flung out like a little piece of sand, one from this direction, another from behind, more and more, until his looks, his character, his soul would have eroded away. (173)
The "aha" moment comes at then end of the chapter:
I saw what I had been fighting for: it was for me, a scared child, who had run away a long time ago to what I had imagined was a safer place. And hiding in this place, behind my invisible barriers, I know what lay on the other side: Her side attacks. Her secret weapons. Her uncanny ability to find my weakest spots. But in the brief instant I had peered over the barriers I could finally see what was really there: an old woman, a wok for her armor, a knitting needle for her sword, getting a little crabby as she waited patiently for her daughter to invite her in. (183)