I read The Joy Luck Club for pleasure, before it was assigned for pain. I mean, technically, my English teacher assigned it as summer reading and I chose the work because I’d already read it, but there is some kind of evolution that happens to a work you have read before and now MUST read.
Amy Tan’s multi-voiced novel is similar to a mosaic novel and not much like one at all. For one thing, the framing device is much of the story, for another, I didn’t know the category existed when I was twelve. Thus, the novel exists in the same space as a favored, half-forgotten childhood memory. Condensed, dreamlike, and witnessed as a passer-by rather than a participant. That is not to say that her protagonists and supporting characters are no longer intimately familiar, just that my first reading has taken place so long ago that I can no longer tell you what exactly happens or exactly how I felt at any one point in the book. I can only look back, and, without truly understanding who I was then, think of green spaces and angry children and unrelenting parents. Somewhere in there is a great joy. I have also tangled the book I knew first with the second time I knew it, reluctantly, and the movie we also had to watch, and a couple of quizzes that I absolutely loathed.
What I meant to say was that Tan’s stories within the book occupy the same time and space as one another, though they are lived generations apart. Her flashback style feels similar to approaching someone you know but can’t remember why, and then in reaching out to shake their hand, you are struck with the memory of the first meeting and that first smile. Thus there is this smile with two layers, one buoyed with the joy of seeing someone again and one of self-congratulations of that knowing epiphany right before your hands connect.
Someone will read your story. Maybe it’s you, maybe it’s your future self and all your audience. When you close the book, and you exhale that story world for the final time, what space will the story inhabit in your memory? The length of a bus ride? The length of one awful revelation (Memento)? The length of a dream – within a dream – within a dream (Inception)? Or a tremendous life-changing journey to a parallel world and the universe shaking revelation that physics is actually quite fun (Diane Duane’s So You Want To Be A Wizard)*?
*I had a deep-seated, frothing hatred of science in general until this book. Just, in general. Even the word made me twitch. Full disclosure, I am now a scientist. Reading: the gateway drug.