The story of a volatile Chinese-Canadian childhood in a family beset by the “Woo-Woo” of mental illness.
Wong’s debut harrowingly portrays a family who “believed that mental illness, or any psychological disturbance, was caused by demonic possession.” She opens with her diagnosis of actual neurological impairment, migraine-associated vertigo, after she’d escaped to graduate school, “How nice to know that I was officially un-Woo, I thought, though he was diagnosing me with a lifelong disorder which left me confined to bed and frequently unable to read or write.” While appearing affluent, her extended family’s emotional entanglements created a chaotic household for Wong and her siblings. The author captures her father’s jovial cruelty in bleakly hilarious dialogue, as when he instructs her that “crying will turn you into a zombie like Mommy.” Wong’s mother also loomed ominously, refusing to receive appropriate treatment despite numerous instances of destructive rage—trying to light Wong’s foot on fire during an ill-starred family trip, noting, “it’s not like you need both feet, because you don’t move anyway.” This hallucinatory upbringing occurred within a caustically portrayed émigré community. From childhood, Wong’s ecologically damaged Vancouver suburb, where many Asian neighbors manufactured cannabis or methamphetamine in McMansions, seemed conformist, abrasive, and indifferent to criminal behavior. The author describes most characters with a visceral, grotesque sense of body horror, and she doesn’t ignore her own struggles with obesity and other maladies: “Puberty had transformed me into a four-foot-eight, 140-pound goblin.” Wong’s familial entropy culminated in her favorite aunt’s attempted public suicide, on a major bridge during Canada Day, gaining them further notoriety: “ ‘The cops said I was the best bridge jumper ever,’ Beautiful One squealed to me on the phone.” Nonetheless, the author moved toward redemption through understanding, noting of her mother, “she screamed because she was constantly afraid.” Wong confidently creates pungent dialogue and environmental detail. There are issues with pacing, in that the grim narrative progression can seem repetitive or meandering, but on the whole, this is a bracing debut.
A raw, profane, and funny memoir.