Monday, July 7, 2014

Catching Up

The following are books that I read on planes:

23. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

When I unexpectedly finished my book before I reached the airport, I frantically searched for something quick, cheap, and light to grab for the plane ride. I picked up a mass market paperback of Neil Gaiman's latest (is it his latest at this point? it's the last one I heard of.)

I wasn't especially fussed with the only other Gaiman I've read, Neverwhere, but the light satirical tone and fantastical quirks amused me enough. I had no idea what Ocean was about, but I figured it was hard to go completely wrong with Gaiman, and perhaps I would finally join his legions of uber fans. The former was a safe bet, though the latter is still a no-go.

As it turns out, Ocean is another book that would make a perfect children's story were it not for a few unfortunate references. Told from a young boy's point of view, it's again a simplistic plot featuring an invasive villain versus a plucky child rather than a stock hero's journey. The child, of course, has magical guidance and there's a requisite treacly sacrifice.

True to form, Gaiman is spot-on with a child's perspective, and quirky creatures and witty dialogue abound. I just don't get the hype, I'm sorry. I intend to try one of the more adult novels next.

24. How to Be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway

The comparison to Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club is almost unavoidable, though this story features a Japanese mother and half-Japanese daughter. I may have actually enjoyed this one more, though I think I'm in the minority, because this is a more cohesive novel about a single mother/daughter pair rather than a more fragmented story about multiple mother/daughter pairs.

Shoko, a Japanese woman with the expected terrible past and shameful secret, marries an American GI and eventually ends up in San Diego with her husband, son, and daughter. Her daughter Suiko marries and divorces early, with a daughter of her own to show for it. As Shoko's health fails, Suiko and daughter Helena must return to Japan on their mother and grandmother's behalf to make peace with an estranged uncle they've never met.

Other reviewers have criticized Shoko's broken English. It sounded realistic to me, as I have met people who sound like her, but others argue that a woman who's spent most of her life in the U.S. would have a better grasp of language. I'm not so sure, I think it depends on the individual.

The most entertaining parts of the book are the excerpts from a supposed guide on how to be an American housewife for Japanese women married to American men. I wonder if there really was such a guide. It clearly depicts the gulf between the cultures, and how much these women sacrificed for the chance that their children would be safer in America. It's a notion (ironically) completely at odds with the dominant American culture of individualism.

Recommended to those who liked The Joy Luck Club and other books about cross-cultural families.


João Caldeira said...


I read this blog the day I bought The Ocean. It was a very fun read, but by far not my favourite Gaiman. Maybe you should try Smoke and Mirrors next - it's a short story collection, and the book that made me really like him. (I also absolutely recommend American Gods and Sandman, but that's an aside)

Space Station Mir said...

That's funny--I will try Smoke and Mirrors, I've been getting into short stories recently. And American Gods has been on my radar for a while, I need to just read it already.