I wanted to like this story. It’s about Chinese immigrants (who watch Korean soap operas?). It’s not about marital infidelity or cancer or child abuse--all pluses for me.. The narrator, Lin Fanghui, reminds me very much of Olive Kitteridge, the eponymous protagonist of Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel-in-stories. (In the first story of that book, one doesn’t care for Olive either.) Here, Lin has a falling out with her daughter because the daughter won’t invite Lin’s friend, Wang Peisan, for Christmas dinner. Wang is recently widowed and, although she doesn’t really like Wang any more than anyone else does, Lin thinks it’s proper to reach out to the woman.
Wang deteriorates, Lin begins to feel that she’s moving in the same direction, and she reconciles with her daughter. Not really much of a story, in the end.
What’s likeable, though, is all of Lin’s nuttiness along the way—how she interacts with her husband, her other children, Wang—and in the end this portrait of Lin is charming, in the same way that the portrait one eventually gets of Olive Kitteridge is charming. The character of Wang is also charming. Wang appreciates what Lin does for her. At one point Lin brings her a nice cake, but a month later Wang is still eating although it has “turned a mushroom shade and looked slick and congealed.”
The conclusion, though, is a bit sentimental. I had hoped for more. (By the way, I was relieved when in the story a nod is made to Tennessee Williams and the source of the title.)
November 1, 2010: “Blue Roses” by Francis Hwang