Fae Myenne Ng does not seek to solve the mystery of Ona’s death in this novel—it is a mystery that is unsolvable. Rather, through the narrative voice of Lei, she explores the languages and silences of love, grief, assimilation, avoidance, anger, guilt, and finally acceptance.
The novel begins with the language of gossip: “We heard things. ‘A failed family. That Dulcie Fu. And you know which one: bald Leon. Nothing but daughters.’ ” Whispers are heard behind children’s backs—a failed family because there were no sons, because Dulcie had left her first husband, because Dulcie and Leon fought and Leon had moved out, because Nina had moved to New York, because Ona had committed suicide, because Lei had moved in with Mason Louie and then married him in New York without the benefit of the traditional banquet.
Gossip gives way to lies when Lei begins to work through her relationship with Leon. Leon needs a steady source of income to pay his rent at the resident hotel into which he has moved after Ona’s suicide. When Lei finally persuades him he can still earn some money while collecting Social Security, he agrees to apply for his benefits. Lei accompanies him to the Social Security office, where she and the interviewer try to sort through the morass of aliases and multiple birthdates that Leon has claimed over the years. These are the lies that Leon had used to survive and to support his family in a society which patronized him and devalued his masculinity.
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