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Summary and book reviews of The Love Wife by Gish Jen

The Love Wife

by Gish Jen

The Love Wife
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2004, 400 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2005, 400 pages

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Book Summary

Powerfully evoking the contemporary American family in all its fragility and strength, Gish Jen has given us her most exuberant and accomplished novel about the new "half-half" American family.

From the highly praised author of Mona in the Promised Land and Who's Irish?–a generous, funny, explosive novel about the new "half-half" American family.

Here is Carnegie Wong, second-generation Chinese American warm heart and funny guy. Here is his WASP wife, the delicious "za-za-vavoomy" Blondie. Here are their two adopted Asian daughters, and their half-half bio son. And here is Mama Wong, Carnegie's no-holds-barred mother, who, eternally opposed to his marriage, has arranged from her grave for a mainland Chinese relation to come look after the kids. Is this woman, as Carnegie claims, a nanny? Or is she, as Blondie fears, something else?

What happens as Carnegie and Blondie try to incorporate the ambiguous new arrival into their already complicated lives is touchingly, brilliantly, intricately told.

Powerfully evoking the contemporary American family in all its fragility and strength, Gish Jen has given us her most exuberant and accomplished novel.

Excerpt
The Love Wife

BLONDIE  / The day Lan came, you could still say whose family this was--Carnegie's and mine.

We had three children. Two beautiful Asian girls--or should I say Asian American--Wendy, age nine, and Lizzy, age fifteen, both adopted; and one bio boy, Bailey, age thirteen months. Carnegie's ancestry being Chinese, and mine European, Bailey was half half, as they say--or is there another term by now? With less mismatch in it--'half half' having always spoken to me more of socks than of our surprise child, come to warm the lap of our middle years.

Our family was, in any case, an improvisation. The new American family, our neighbor Mitchell once proclaimed, tottering drunk up our deck stairs. But for Carnegie and me, it was simply something we made. Something we chose.

His mother, Mama Wong, thought this unnatural.

The trouble with you people is not enough periods, she liked to say. You can say I ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
The questions, discussion topics, and suggested reading that follow are designed to enhance your group's reading of Gish Jen's The Love Wife. We hope they will provide you with interesting ways of talking about this funny, touchingly realistic novel about the new American family by the acclaimed author of Typical American and Mona in the Promised Land.
  1. At the beginning of the novel, Blondie says, "At least I had my family. Every happy family has its innocence. I suppose, looking back, this was ours" (p. 4). Is her belief in the sanctity of the family shared by the others? In what ways does her upbringing and her position within the Bailey family as "the throwback, a plain Jane who seemed to have ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

The Boston Phoenix

The Love Wife probes that profound human need to be part of a family and to have your own place within it...Jen has created characters of complexity and truth.

People Magazine

Vibrant, multilayered...wise and compassionate, The Love Wife unflinchingly probes the ties that bind–and separate–people, races and nations.

The New York Times - Michiko Kakutani

The Love Wife, is also a big story a story about families and identity and race and the American Dream, a story about how one generation deals with the expectations and the hopes of an earlier generation, a story about how sons and daughters make choices that define themselves against their parents. It is a story that works a minor-key variation on many of the themes that Ms. Jen has sounded in her earlier fiction, yet a story that also represents her most ambitious and emotionally ample work yet.

The Los Angeles Times - Bernadette Murphy

Jen's humor and sharp writing are delightful...A tale about family love and commitment in an era of political correctness.

Publishers Weekly

Though the shifting first-person narratives sometimes come off as awkwardly stagey, this novel has a robust, lived-in quality that makes you miss it when it's over.

Booklist - Donna Seaman

Jen--a writer of great comedic skills, candor, and imagination, who specializes in cultural collisions--portrays a hugely entertainingly American family in her third novel, a vibrant work notable for its unusual and arresting dialogue-saturated style...a smart, piquant, and far-reaching tragicomedy.

Library Journal - Dale Raben

Poignant, funny, and powerful in the tradition of her previous works, Jen's latest raises many questions about the significance of race relations within family life and provides an illuminating portrait of Chinese Americans. Highly recommended. 

Author Blurb Maxine Hong Kingston
What a truly satisfying read The Love Wife is. As I got to know the Wongs – a family like more and more American families – I loved each one of them. Hearing their multi-lingual voices and participating in their delights and sadnesses, their fun and troubles, I felt my own understanding and kindness grow. A wonderful book.

Author Blurb Cynthia Ozick
I've been reading and marveling . . . Her characters are so alive that one can hardly call them 'characters.' Blondie, Mama Wong, Carnegie, Lizzy, Wendy, and, oh, Lan! I didn't want to part from them here is a novel so insightful, so satisfying, that it ought never to have ended. The interlude in China, the ingenuity of the narration, the tenderness, the all-observing comedy, the darker elements, the perfect-pitch dialogue, the domestic exactitude, the surprises! Having lived for a time (too brief a time) with Gish's people as with one's own family, one comes to love them.

Author Blurb Jay Parini
It's hard to find a novel that seems, at once, so funny and so touching that one really is dumbstruck with admiration. The Love Wife, with its fragmented narrative, its feast of voices, summons a strange new American reality and declares it pure. I read the book in three sittings, and plan to start it all over again soon, hating to leave this world, these characters, this vision.

Reader Reviews

tishrickards

As an internationally adoptive parent, the adolecent voices in "The Love Wife" ring with clarity and understanding. The use of multiple perspectives is a wonderful way to tell a story. Aas each character shares their story, and unique ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Gish Jen's first novel was published in 1991; Typical American followed three young Chinese immigrants who slowly transform into everything they had once criticized as 'typically American'.  In her next book, Mona in the Promised Land (1996), which was named one of the LA Times' top ten books of 1996, Jen continued to explore the notions of cultural diversity and ethnic identity.  In 1999 she published a collection of eight short stories titled Who's Irish?: And Other Stories which examined American life from a foreigner's perspective.   In addition her short stories have been published in many places including The New Yorker and The New York Times. The Love Wife is her fourth book.

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