As their father's body is ravaged by illness, two siblings try to recover from failed marriages and rebuild their lives.
Judy Lee is 38 years old. Still reeling from her divorce just over a year ago, she has no husband, no kids, and no house. She's just quit her temp job and lives in a small apartment littered with old food and worn clothes. Her brother, Kevin, a former tennis pro who's also recently divorced, is doing a little better, but he's just found out, after a routine screening to see if he can donate a kidney to his ailing father, that he was actually adopted. Even though Kevin is completely overwhelmed by the news, he thinks Judy should donate a kidney, but Judy is unable to forgive her father for having had “the audacity to carry on an affair while his wife was dying.” Haltingly, Judy embarks on a new relationship with a former co-worker, but Kevin is mired in the past. Memories of his ex-wife haunt him even as he travels to San Francisco to search for information about his birth parents. Kevin and Judy are opposites: Kevin, the calm, methodical, successful one, Judy, the disorganized, chaotic mess. At times, this characterization feels a little too pat—and, when Judy’s presence is occasionally subsumed in the moments when Kevin takes over the narrative, a tad imbalanced as well. But as the plot progresses, and each outgrows these self-imposed labels, the narrative becomes about the performance of self: who we tell ourselves we are, who others perceive us to be. “Who are you?” characters ask each other more than once. In the end, the answer is that we are so much more than can ever be articulated.
A writer of deep pathos and empathy, Woo (Everything Asian, 2009) has given us a deeply felt novel of parents and children, husbands and wives—the many ways we try to connect and fail; and how sometimes, somehow, we succeed.