Until its monumentally weak ending, this is a terrific story. But the sappy, let’s-run-away-together ending completely undermines what makes the rest of the story outstanding. Wanren is a Chinese immigrant who is working as a presser in a New York garment sweatshop. He is miserable and lonely. He lives in the house behind a weeping cherry (which is the image that gives the story so much promise) and in order to save money on rent allows himself to be pressed into service driving the young women who live in the house to occasional appointments. They are prostitutes, but they are the “good” kind – they’re clean, don’t seem to be involved in drugs or alcohol. In other words, not quite believable. Wanren becomes attached to one of the girls, and she seems willing to leave the sex business for him (he is a nice guy and a hard worker, although what he has to offer is so paltry it is hard to see why she’s interested). The complication is, she needs $18,000 to pay back the gangster who smuggled her into the country. Aha, I thought, this is interesting. Wanren is going to come up with the money and she’s going to swindle him and he’s going to learn a hard lesson about trusting people in America. But no. The two of them go to the gangster and ask to have the payments reduced. Aha, I thought, one of them is going to be roughed up by the gangster and the other one is going to run out on him/her. But no. In the end, Wanren and the girl decide to skip town. They pull their money out of the bank (one last hope for that swindle!), pack a bag (she can still change her mind!), and off they go, “arm in arm, without looking back.” Without looking back? Give me a break. Could you be any more trite? Ha Jin – you’re way better than this. The only justification I can think of for this story is that the editors were desperate for a story about a hooker in light of the Spitzer scandal and this the best they could do on short notice. Not a good enough reason.
April 7, 2008: “The House Behind a Weeping Cherry” by Ha Jin