The Price of Eggs in China Summary
“The Price of Eggs in China” begins with Dean Kaneshiro arriving at the house of “Oriental Hair Poet No. 2.” This poet, Marcella Ahn, called Dean two years earlier to hire him to make a chair for her. A master furniture builder and much in demand, Dean could not give her an earlier date to measure her. As the time of their appointed fitting has neared, Dean has sought out Marcella, only to find that by now she has moved to Rosarita Bay. There is already an Asian poet with beautiful long hair living in the town: Dean’s girlfriend, Caroline Yip.
Dean measures Marcella and asks her questions about her work then observes her as she sits at her chair and writes for twenty minutes, in order to understand her working habits. When she asks if she can come to his studio to watch him work, he adamantly refuses.
When he tells his girlfriend about having measured Marcella for a chair, Caroline is outraged and recounts her history with the other woman. They both lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, when they were in their early twenties and were best friends. Their first books of poetry were published at about the same time, which earned them the collective nickname “The Oriental Hair Poets,” although their styles were completely different: Marcella Ahn’s poetry was quiet and thoughtful, while Caroline Yip’s was written in “a slangy, contemporary voice, full of topical, pop culture allusions.” After the books were published, Marcella attracted all of the critical attention, earning the coveted teaching jobs and having her picture on the covers of the best magazines. Caroline was left to linger in the shadow of Marcella’s career. Then a man who had been dating Caroline for seven years broke up with her, explaining that it was because of a remark Marcella had made, and Caroline moved away from the literary scene to live in isolation in California, where she met Dean.
Caroline assumes that Marcella moved to Rosarita Bay specifically to torment her, that she might need to torment Caroline for artistic inspiration. She tells Dean that, since he has no contract, he has no obligation to make the chair for her, but he says that he must.
Caroline begins receiving vague, mysteriously sinister gifts: candy and flowers, stuffed animals, lingerie and more. Afraid that she is being stalked, she moves in with Dean. Behind his house is a shed where he keeps the wood that he uses for furniture making: the wood is from rare Japanese zelkova trees that are a thousand to two thousand years old, and it must be stored in a controlled climate. Because it is so rare and will someday soon be unobtainable, Dean has stockpiled thousands of dollars of raw wood.
One day Marcella comes to Dean’s workshop, even though he has given explicit instructions against being interrupting. Despite Caroline’s insinuations, Marcella insists that moving to Rosarita Bay was just a coincidence. She also mentions that the only place she has seen a Dean Kaneshiro chair is in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. When she leaves, Caroline is furious: she had not known that Dean’s works were so famous that they were in museums or that he had received a grant that gave him fifty thousand dollars a year for five years. Feeling humbled, she moves out of his house and back to her apartment.
Dean tries to win her back, going repeatedly to the diner where she works, though she refuses to talk with him. One day, he receives a summons to go to the police station, where he is questioned about harassing Marcella:...
(The entire section is 947 words.)