“Lydia, five years old, standing on tiptoe to watch vinegar and baking soda foam in the sink. Lydia tugging a heavy book from the shelf, saying, "Show me again, show me another." Lydia, touching the stethoscope, ever so gently, to her mother’s heart. Tears blur Marilyn’s sight."
Echoing laughter, coconut suntan lotion scented sun baked skin, splashing with the distinct cry of Marco Polo. Meatloaf, lemon polish, the broken spine Betty Crocker cook book haphazardly dangling from the Formica kitchen counter top.
Hazy, filtered sunlight memories - this book is chock full of them.
Lydia Lee, middle child of a Chinese American family, is dead. No spoiler here as this is how the book opens. While her death is discovered and the mystery surrounding her death is explored, the history of a reeling family is revealed by each characters reflections and flashbacks.
As much as I like pretty words and nostalgic, sentimental writing, Marilyn and James Lee, parents to dead Lydia, pissed me off so much that I could hardly enjoy the lovely storytelling. Not only did I think that their lack of communication was unbelievable, (which to be fair, was complicated by societal expectations - this is set in the 70's) but their actions made me angry. It was supremely frustrating to see such potential for love and contentment within a family fall incredibly short and turn into neglect and isolation.
It is, very much, a story of relationships and how time builds on the foundation of a relationship, no matter how sturdy (or uneven) the bedrock is. I'm not really sure that I had a takeaway from my reading experience except for the passing thought that women today have it pretty swell with the option of birth control. Basically, this story wouldn't exist if James and Marilyn hadn't started a family when they did. The foundation to their relationship would have been on more even ground, and they wouldn't have done the million and one things that pissed me off as a result.
So even though I didn't love this selection, this is what bookclub does, it makes me stretch (with a bonus that it adds a nice memory to my reading experience when we get together and laugh, or in my case, exercise my social awkwardness).