Critical Overview

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Tan’s first novel, The Joy Luck Club, which includes Waverly Jong’s childhood story in ‘‘Rules of the Game,’’ was a smash success with both popular and critical readers. In her review in the The Nation, Valerie Miner called the book ‘‘a stunningly auspicious debut,’’ and called Tan ‘‘a gifted storyteller who reaches across cultures and generations.’’ Orville Schell of The New York Times Review of Books called it ‘‘a jewel of a book,’’ while Scarlet Cheng, in Belles Lettres, commended it for its ‘‘clarity of voice and lucidity of vision.’’

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Of course, it is rare to find a book that is wholly and universally loved by all, and The Joy Luck Club is no exception. The majority of the negative criticism has been about the book’s structure. As David Gates noted in his Newsweek review, ‘‘Waverly is just one of eight main characters—four Chineseborn mothers and their American-born daughters— in The Joy Luck Club.’’ In total, the book contains sixteen individual stories from these characters. Said Charlotte Painter, in the San Francisco Review of Books, ‘‘The book holds technical difficulties Tan has not overcome. The voices, in unrelieved first person, resemble one another too closely.’’ As Gates said, ‘‘such an ambitious narrative scheme would be a handful for any writer; inevitably the voices sound alike.’’ And in Melus, Ben Xu characterized the book as ‘‘neither a novel nor a group of short stories. It consists of isolated acts and events, which remain scattered and disbanded.’’

To Gates, however, ‘‘Tan is so gifted that none of this matters much.’’ Likewise, in the Christian Science Monitor, Merle Rubin called each story ‘‘a gem, complete in itself,’’ and said that ‘‘In Tan’s hands, these linked stories—diverse as they are—fit almost magically into a powerfully coherent novel.’’

Several critics remarked on the themes inherent in all of the stories, most notably the experience of Chinese Americans. In fact, as Dorothy Wang noted of Tan after an interview with the author, ‘‘her insights into the complexities of being a hyphenated American, connected by blood and bonds to another culture and country, have found a much wider audience than Tan had ever imagined.’’ Schell cited The Joy Luck Club as part of ‘‘a new genre of American fiction,’’ which began with the works of writers like Maxine Hong Kingston. Walter Shear was another critic who noted the similarity of Tan’s works to Hong Kingston’s, saying in his review in Critique that the two authors’ abilities ‘‘to render the experience of a culture through vividly dramatic individual narratives,’’ is helping to develop a ‘‘tradition of Chinese-American women’s writing.’’ In The Women’s Review of Books , Helen Yglesias praised Tan for veering away from traditional stereotypes of Chinese women, saying that ‘‘there isn’t...

(The entire section contains 714 words.)

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Essays and Criticism