“The Bonesetter’s Daughter” is the second to last Amy Tan novel I have yet to re-read, and like “Hundred Secret Senses,” I realized I couldn’t remember a dang thing about this book. “The Joy Luck Club” is all about switching POVs between eight characters, “The Kitchen God’s Wife” is basically a super long version of one Joy Luck story (that is of course morbidly depressing half the time), and “Saving Fish From Drowning” is about a ghost following around and narrating about the lulziest tour group to ever hit Myanmar. Turns out that “Hundred Secret Senses” was about an insufferable woman with a badass sister who had an awesome backstory to tell – turns out that “The Bonesetter’s Daughter” is about an insufferable woman with a badass mother who had an awesome backstory to tell.
The first thing making Bonesetter Stick out is the fact the daughter’s – Ruth – POV is written in third person. Why, when Amy Tan is the queen of rambling first POV? I have no idea. Because the entire middle section narrated by her mother, LuLing, is written in first. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Other than that, it’s the usual Amy Tan fare. Ruth is in a miserable relationship on the brink of failure (wow, that’s new) and her mother, the immigrant LuLing, drives her bonkers. (That’s new too!!) Ruth spends her whole time whining and whining, especially about her mother, and ESPECIALLY about her long-time boyfriend what’shisface. (Oh right, Art. Groan.) Art has two teenaged girls from a previous marriage with the most wtf names ever (Dory and Fia. Yeah. That’s real 90s.) who talk like they’re six instead of early teens. Basically, Ruth’s life is totally moan-worthy and omg all these negative feels. She and Olivia from Hundred Secret Senses should become bffs and complain about how awful it is to be upper middle class in San Francisco.
ANYWAY, the story. You see, Ruth has a mother (really?? In an Amy Tan novel??) named LuLing, who is starting to act a little strange. Turns out she has early-onset dementia, and is of course only going to get worse. So what does LuLing do? Write down her entire life story up until moving to America, just in case she forgets any of the details and can never tell her daughter.
Ruth has the documents translated while her mother is away. Of course, what she discovers about her mother are things she would have never guessed before. Or even imagined. As usual, LuLing’s story about growing up the illegitimate daughter of deformed-by-fire “Bonesetter’s Daughter” is both heart wrenching (I mean it’s 1920s China come on) and intriguing. I struggled to get through Ruth’s set-up chapters and then pretty much devoured all of LuLing’s backstory in one night. Since I’d forgotten most of it, it was like it was brand new to me…which is always nice.
With all this whining on my part (hi Ruth, you’re rubbing off on me) you may be wondering why I gave this book four stars. It’s more like 3 and a half, but I decided to round up, because of the score I gave Hundred Secret Senses. These books are almost exactly the same in structure and style, just the details are different. And the biggest difference is that Bonesetter had a waaaay more fulfilling ending than Hundred Secret Senses did. I was actually smiling a little when I closed this book. Unlike the other one which I’m pretty sure I threw across the room.
Is it Tan’s best work? No. Not at all. I have the “reader’s guide” paperback and in it is a lot of mentions on Tan’s part about how hard this book was for her to write. Well, yeah. You’re pretty much just copying yourself now. (She said affectionately.) That said, Tan is an amazing writer, so her “slush” tends to be far better grade than most other author’s magnum opii. I read this book very quickly, not because I’m a speed reader but because I was legit hooked once LuLing’s tale began. If you love the backstory’s of Tan’s “mothers”, then read this book now. You won’t be disappointed. If you can’t bear to read another Olivia-type character again I’m…I’m sorry. Good luck.