by Kim Triedman My gym misses me. I haven’t exactly been pulling my weight lately. Or blasting my abs or busting my butt, either. In fact I can honestly say that from the moment I started writing my second novel this past September, I have gone through the gym …
Everything I Never Told You is Celeste Ng’s debut novel and she sets the bar high. Her novel revolves around the a Chinese-American family living in small town Ohio, a rarity in the 1970s.
What works in this novel is Ng’s use of a third person narrator, and through this narrator, we learn how deeply dysfunctional and non-communicative the Lee family is. The novel begins: “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet. 1977, May 3, six-thirty in the morning, no one knows anything but this Innocuous fact: Lydia is late for breakfast” (1). Lydia’s death reveals how isolated each family member is from all the others. Set apart from their community because of the bi-racial nature of the family, they are also set apart from each other. Lydia’s death isolates her family further from their community–her death is a suspected suicide–and, when most needed, each other as well.
Ng’s third person narrator slowly reveals the inner thoughts and disappointments each family member harbors. Through her death, this narrator also shows each family member struggling to cope with what the each wanted reality to be, and the truth. The old saying is the truth shall set you free. In this case, the truth severs the frayed threads tying this family together, sending each of them tumbling through their grief, unmoored from each other.
Lydia is sixteen and a perfect mix of her genetic heritage: “But Lydia, defying genetics, somehow has her mother’s blue eyes, and they know this is one more reason she is their mother’s favorite. And their father’s too” (3). The ‘they’ in this quote are Lydia’s siblings, her older brother Nate and younger sister Hannah. Within the first few pages, the narrator reveals several secrets. Nate and Hannah know black-haired, blue-eyed Lydia is the favorite child out of the three. The only hidden secret is the parents unaware their other two children have picked up on the favoritism.
Marilyn Lee sends Nate and Hannah off to school and takes a mug from the cupboard, a routine gesture in a morning suddenly thrown off the routine. As she does so, she flashes back to a memory of Lydia when Lydia was eleven months old. Marilyn left Lydia playing in the living room on a quilt, and had gone into the kitchen for a cup of tea:
“Marilyn took the kettle off the stove and turned to find Lydia standing in the doorway. She had started and a red, spiral welt rose on her palm, and she touched it to her lips and looked at her daughter through watering eyes. Standing there, Lydia was strangely alert, as if she was taking in the kitchen for the first time. ..The thought that flashed through her mind wasn’t How did I miss it? but What else have you been hiding?…Marilyn often had her back turned, opening the refrigerator or turning over the laundry. Lydia could’ve been walking weeks ago, while she was bent over a pot, and she would not have known” (4).
Here we learn through the narrator Marilyn doesn’t know Lydia as well as a mother should, especially when it comes to walking. After a short time, Marilyn calls the police and James at work. Eventually, through the narrator, we learn this isn’t the first time the police have been called about a missing family member.
We also see James, grading history papers in his office. He’s a tenured faculty member, a professor of American history, at Middlewood College. When younger and:
“still junior faculty, he was often mistaken for a student himself. That hasn’t happened in years. He’ll be forty-six next spring…Sometimes, though, he’s still mistaken for other things. Once, a receptionist at the provost’s office thought he was a visiting diplomat from Japan and asked him about his flight from Tokyo. He enjoys the surprise on people’s faces when he tells them he’s a professor of American history,” but becomes defensive when people “blink.” (9).
He still feels the outsider, set off by his ethnic heritage, even though he’s as American as the people he is talking too.
Throughout the novel, Ng’s effective use of the third person narrator continues to reveal the secrets of the Lee family and how those secrets keep the family isolated from each other.
Toward the end of the novel, Ng also uses her narrator to flashback to Lydia, when she was alive, allowing the dead girl at the beginning of the novel a voice in her own story. It is an inner story that has shaped Lydia’s life, one she needs to revise, with devastating results.
The novel raises questions: how well do we know family members? Is what we “know” true, or assumptions, because it’s far easier to deal with assumptions–what we want to be true–than what really is? Everything I Never Told You is a novel that has stayed with me, long after I finished reading it.
Ng, Celeste. Everything I Never Told You. New York:Penguin Group. 2014. Print.
By Robin Black This post first appeared October 11, 2011 What can renovating and reclaiming your home after years of neglecting it teach you about revising fiction? A lot more than I imagined, it turns out. My husband and I have lived in our house for sixteen …
Over at fastcompany.com: “Is An MFA The New MBA?
Companies all across America are starting to see a critical talent gap as older employees retire. Arts students may not have all the traditional skills, but they have the most important one: creativity.”
Read the rest of Steven Tepper’s excellent post at fastcompany.com
The site is moving to a self-hosted site. Subscriptions will be going along too. If you are an email subscriber, then you will continue to get updates. If you are a wordpress.com follower, new notices will show up in reader, but no email notices will be sent unless you sign up at the new site to receive email notices. The site new site should be up and running within a week.
Thank you for reading
The online conundrum–build a web presence. Write–don’t worry about a web presence. You need a website. Not all well-known authors have websites.
Over at Writer Unboxed, Jane Friedman writes about the social media conundrum: “The Online Presence That’s a Natural Extension of Who You Are And What You Do, (Is It Just A Fantasy?).”
She writes: “I’ve been reading with interest (and sympathy) the comments on Porter Anderson’s Unboxed post last week, where we see the familiar Sturm und Drang of writers grappling with the demands of online marketing—or how to be publicly communicative and chummy when it’s against our nature, perhaps even against our work.
This has remained a problem for a long time now, hasn’t it?”
Read the rest oft her post.
Also read the comment by Donald Maas.
A humorous look at writer’s nightmares over at the Ploughshares blog:
You give a reading and only one person shows up. It is your ex.
You spend five years working on a novel about Marie Antoinette’s wigmaker. The day you finish your final revisions, Margaret Atwood publishes a novel about Marie Antoinette’s wigmaker.
Read the rest of Rebecca Makkai’s humorous blog post
Also over at Ploughshares, check out their Writing Lessons posts.
Ever wonder what literary magazines end up in Michael Nye’s, managing editor of The Missouri Review, mailbox?
Wonder no more
Baseball your game? Then Spitball magazine may be for you.
Are you a new or unpublished writer? These magazines may be for you.
I stumbled across this post this morning and wish I had found it sooner, but here it is. The sale date is tomorrow. Read on:
By Robin Black Any interest in having your prose or poetry manuscript reviewed by the likes of Philip Levine, Elizabeth McCracken, Ron Carlson, Tony Hoagland, or perhaps some other equally amazing author?? There’s an app for that. . .or anyway, there’s a website. And you’ll be …
Sara Kuhl writes about wanting to protect her characters:
As writers, we often develop deep relationships with our characters. We talk to them while we’re in the shower. At night, we dream of them. Our characters live side-by-side with us for long stretches. So when it comes time to push their narrative to a place that forces us to make a choice that could hurt them, we may opt to give them a sprained leg when what’s really necessary is an amputation.
I’ve danced around causing my own beloved characters pain. In an early draft of a story about a boy who drowns, I refused to allow the parents to feel the anguish of that loss. I wanted to tie up their lives in neat little packages and allow them to go on their way.
Read the rest of Sara’s post at the South85 blog
We hadn’t talked since we left our West Virginia homeplace over two hours ago, both of us teary-eyed, too afraid to put words into the space already overfull of emotion. Every now and then, I’d hear Romie sniffle in the seat beside me, and she’d squeeze my knee, or I’d squeeze hers. It was the only way to say what we felt. It surprises me then that she speaks when we’re partway through East River Mountain Tunnel.
“Look at them cracks,” she says. “You think it’s even safe to drive through here?”