AMERICAN KNEES by Shawn Wong

AMERICAN KNEES

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Seattle poet/essayist Wong's second novel (after Homebase, 1991, not reviewed): a satirical exploration of ethnic-American love whose characters' addiction to sociological rhetoric gets in their (and their readers') way. The title refers to the schoolyard taunt ""What are you--Chinese, Japanese, or American Knees?"" This sort of mild insider's humor permeates the story of Californian Raymond Ding--a ""lapsed Chinese"" who's had affairs with white women and suffered through the requisite marriage to a Chinese-American (and, so it often seemed, to her entire clan). Now, at age 37, the assistant director of Jack London College's Office of Minority Affairs is depressed and bewildered to find himself--as the first divorced member of his own Chinese family--highly unlikely to perpetuate the purity of the ancestral genes. Caught between an ""American"" itch to strike out on his own and an equally strong desire to play the role of dutiful Chinese son (though his mother is dead and his engineer father, far from monitoring Raymond's behavior, dreams only of sending off for a brand-new mail-order bride), Raymond naturally falls in love next with the woman most likely to unnerve him. Aurora (i.e., ""many-colored"") Crane, a beautiful young half-Japanese, half-Irish photojournalist, has her own problems with ethnicity--among them a resentment of society's stereotypes regarding Asian-American women--and she finds Raymond's ethnic guilt and endless search for identity a tiresome reminder of all she wants to avoid. For a while, Raymond's political correctness drives Aurora out of his life--long enough for him to have a brief tryst with a war-scarred Vietnamese coworker--but in the end the couple's philosophical conflicts prove as binding a glue as their profound mutual lust. Aurora takes Raymond back, and his tedious cultural theorizing fills her home again--but it doesn't matter because she loves him. Sadly, the reader has no such blinders on.

Pub Date: Aug. 23rd, 1995
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster