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 A Chinese-American's ambitious but flat first novel in which recent college graduate Ruby Lee comes home to face the family she fled. Settings, people, and activities (especially the preparation of remarkable meals) play prominent roles and are vividly and lovingly evoked. But that's not enough to carry a narrative that often seems an underpowered vehicle for characters whose problems feel more contrived than convincing. Ruby is confused about a lot of things: her sexual identity; her relationship with her parents, Bell and Franklin, and with her boyfriend Nick; as well as her reasons for coming home. While she was at Columbia, she rarely visited, even though her mother and father live in nearby Queens, where her father owns a laundry. Since childhood, Ruby has always felt protective of her mother, a quirky character who works in a garment factory, hoards food in the basement, and sews clothes for a granddaughter she's never seen. Ruby's parents sleep in separate rooms, and their relationship is also one of the issues that she's come home to resolve. She describes her father's trip to China to marry Bell; her parents' uneasy relations with her two siblings; and her own sexual needs and anxieties (she finds herself increasingly drawn to women), which have led to numerous panicky one-night-stands as well as an on-and-off relationship with Nick. As the months pass, Ruby intermittently works as a temp, saves to take her mother to Florida, and tries to understand her family. By fall, following a series of confrontations and revelations, she's finally able to move out, having accepted the tangled nature of family life and family history and its influence on her character, and having come to grips with her own sexuality. A coming-of-age story that pushes all the current multicultural buttons--cuisine, custom, and conflict between generations--but never truly comes alive. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-684-81416-1
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1997