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Critical Overview

(Short Stories for Students)

Early reviews of Tan's The Joy Luck Club, often mistakenly called a novel, were generally positive. Writing for the New York Times Book Review, Orville Schell praises Tan's grasp of the Chinese-American experience and says that Tan "has a wonderful eye for what is telling, a fine ear for dialog, a deep empathy for her subject matter and a guilelessly straightforward way of writing.’’ The stories, he claims, ‘‘sing with a rare fidelity and beauty.’’

In a review in Time magazine, John Skow maintains that "the author writes with both inside and outside knowing, and her novel rings clearly, like a fine porcelain bowl.’’

Some reviewers were less impressed with Tan's narrative structure, however. Writing in New York magazine, Rhoda Koenig finds the book ‘‘lively and bright but not terribly deep,’’ and notes that ‘‘some of the stories resolve themselves too neatly and cozily.’’ She concedes, however, that ‘‘one cannot help being charmed ... by the sharpness of the observation.’’

Similarly, Carole Angier in New Statesman and Society asserts that the book is "over-schematic," that ‘‘in the end it gives you indigestion, as if you've eaten too any Chinese fortune cookies, or read too many American Mother's Day cards.’’

In the decade since its publication, Tan's collection of stories has remained a critical and commercial success. Its popular success has helped open the doors of the publishing industry to other Asian-American authors. Though it remains too soon to tell how literary history will assess the stories in The Joy Luck Club, the book has already received a great deal of attention in critical journals and has been the subject of numerous master's theses and doctoral dissertations in recent years.

E. D. Huntley contends that the ‘‘proliferation of scholarly examinations ... points to the literary and cultural value of Tan's work.’’ She goes on to assert that ‘‘Tan has already earned herself a berth in the canon of contemporary American literature,'' and that ‘‘Tan's novels have proven both their literary staying power as well as their broad appeal to a wide readership.''