BOOK REVIEW: “The Hundred Secret Senses” by Amy Tan

The Hundred Secret SensesThe Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As I’m reading all of Amy Tan’s works again, I realized, upon reading all their summaries, that “The Hundred Secret Senses” was the only book I couldn’t remember anything about. (I read all the books around the same time before, so it wasn’t like a loooong time ago.) Probably because Senses is not about Amy’s classic mother/daughter dynamic, but a sister/sister relationship.

The story is about a 40ish woman named Olivia, who has put up with her elder half-sister Kwan’s nosiness and…her incredible ability to talk to spirits. Like a medium. Actually, that’s exactly what Kwan is. A very well-meaning medium who can’t stay out of anybody’s business, and doesn’t even care when people call her names and shun her for being weird.

Olivia finds herself with a failing marriage, her 17yo relationship with Simon always meddled with the ghost of his first love. Kwan decides the only way to fix their marriage is to take them all on an excursion to her tiny village in China, where a Olivia discovers that all of Kwan’s stories about past lives and ghosts are true…and what they have to do with herself.

The first thing to note about this book is its voice. I’m a firm believer that Tan is one of the only authors who can pull of first person present and not make me want to run for the hills screaming. That said, there are two POVs in this book – one for Olivia, and one for Kwan. Olivia is a snooty, bratty woman (and child) with a fantastic “woe is me and my messed up family” complex that makes you want to slap her more than once. (And so of course I loved Olivia, because she reminds me of the type of person we hate because she says what we all are thinking but don’t have the balls to say.) On the other extreme, we have Kwan, who speaks in broken English. They both love going off on tangents that make you forget what they were originally talking about. But if you’re not new to Tan’s books, this shouldn’t bother you at all.

I found myself gobbling this book up and wondering why the hell I never remembered it. I mean, there’s no “reveals” because all the “omg what a twists!” are so damn obvious that even M. Night wouldn’t touch them, but the actual writing itself keeps you along for the ride. “Why don’t I remember this? This could easily become one of my favorite books!” I thought to myself.

Then I got to the ending.

Which is where a star off comes from.

The ending is trite and contrived, and overall a huge disappointment that makes you go, really? I think I rolled my eyes so hard they’re still trying to go back into place. And in that process, the ending asked way more questions than it answered. The pure “whatever” I felt at the end reminded me why I never remembered anything about this book later. Still, you’ll notice I gave it four stars – because until the end, I really did love this book, from Olivia’s epic cynicism to Kwan’s witty stories. As long as I pretend the last two chapters didn’t happen, I’m good!

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