Equal parts intense and funny novel about one woman’s breakdown.
The endearing unnamed narrator is a Chinese immigrant working toward her Ph.D. in chemistry at Boston University. When her kind and well-adjusted boyfriend, Eric, asks her to marry him, she is, far from being thrilled, ambivalent. Her indecision throws them into a state of limbo, as he waits to hear whether he will be offered a job in Ohio and she struggles to complete her doctorate by solving her scientific problem in the lab. The only child of an extremely demanding, rageful father and a bitter, beautiful, neglectful mother, the narrator was raised in a house of anger and violence. This makes it difficult for her to accept Eric’s love—he had such a wonderful childhood that he can't even name the worst thing his parents ever said. She has always been a scientist, quiet and focused, shutting out emotions—her childhood being what it was, the onslaught of emotions, were she to allow them in, would be too much. Eventually, she can repress no longer and has something of a mental breakdown—quitting her studies, drinking excessively, hiding out. It is this breakdown from which, over the course of the novel, she makes an incremental return to stability, finding comfort in the love of her anxious dog, her best friend and her best friend’s baby, her therapist’s questions, and eventually one of the older students she has been tutoring. Though essentially unhinged, the narrator is thoughtful and funny, her scramble understandable. It is her voice—distinctive and appealing—that makes this novel at once moving and amusing, never predictable.
Wry, unique, touching tale of the limits of parental and partnership pressure.