Hello! In the beginning of the story, we are introduced to Ruth, a ghost writer, who lives with her boyfriend, Art Kamen, and his two daughters, Dory and Fia. Ruth feels that her mother is a very superstitious person. There is a seeming disconnect between the very modern Chinese daughter and the very traditional Chinese mother.
To her mother, just about anything was a sign of ghosts: broken bowls, barking dogs, phone calls with only silence or heavy breathing at the other end.
One gets the idea that Ruth resents the guilt-trips her mother inflicts on her for not being a traditionally minded Chinese daughter. She even admits that one of the benefits of losing her voice once every year is the lack of necessity of feeling 'guilty for not calling her mother.' When Ruth comes across her mother's manuscript of her life-story hidden between some long neglected papers, she again feels guilty for not having read the story. Like many immigrant children raised in a foreign country, her knowledge of Chinese characters is not quite what it needs to be in order to fluently translate her mother's hand-written story.
Her mother had once drilled Chinese calligraphy into her reluctant brain, and she still recognized some of the characters: "thing, "I" "truth." But unraveling the rest required her to match LuLing's squiggly radicals to uniform ones in a Chinese-English dictionary.
Knowing that she would be castigated for 'not studying Chinese hard enough when she was little,' Ruth rather prefers to translate the words herself. Although this is a drawn out process, she reasons that she will not then have to endure long-winded maternal stories about the meaning of each word without actually receiving real answers to necessary questions. Ruth also knows that she will be rewarded with prolonged periods of silence from her mother if she objects to being a silent, dutiful daughter who refrains from challenging her elder. So, you can see the generational tension between Ruth and her mother, due to certain expectations on her mother's part and resentment on Ruth's part. Ruth obviously loves her mother, but resents having to exhibit certain obligatory behaviors before she can obtain maternal approval. Hence, Ruth's relationship with her mother is often fraught with guilt; she feels guilty for the tension, but she is also fearful that she will end up manifesting certain behavioral traits her mother displayed while raising her:
Of course, she wasn't like her mother in other respects, thank God. Her mother was permanently unhappy with everything and everybody. LuLing had immersed her in a climate of unsolvable despair throughout Ruth's childhood.
When Ruth's friend, Wendy, calls to tell her that her mother is marrying her personal trainer who is years younger, Ruth wishes that her own mother's boyfriend had asked to marry Ruth's mother and kept her occupied too. However, being eighty, he died of a heart attack instead. So, Ruth is stuck with her mother's constant haranguing about filial behavior and necessary life rituals. It is not an enviable position to be in.
...LuLing never forgot a thing, especially lies, betrayals, and all the bad deeds Ruth had done since she was born.
Thanks for the question.