February Flowers by Fan Wu
But this was also the generation of single-child families -- so even Ming, Fan Wu's "good girl", is just as deeply troubled - disconnected from human relationships -- disconnected from herself.
Yes -- Ming has some problems -- and she ends up maybe even worse than Mian Mian's reformed junkie -- as she compulsively, desperately pursues her missing soul-mate (missing self? ) who may, or may not, be living in San Francisco.
But at least both Fan Wu -- and her self-based character, Chen Ming, have stayed away from drugs and booze -- i.e had a much healthier life-style -- and as a consequence the author can produce a much more coherent novel -- actually, kind of a tightly faceted gem, full of carefully constructed passages and inter-connections that reward those who re-read it.
I don't know if it's characteristic of everyone in their generation of single-child families ---- but neither Fan Wu's nor Mian Mian's protagonists find role models outside their own generation.
Dropping out of school -- Mian Mian's girl becomes obsessed -- and mis-led -- by the worthless spoiled kid musician-junkie, Saining --- but Fan Wu's girl is an over-achiever -- she stays in school -- is at the top of her class -- goes to university --and studies the greatest achievements of both Chinese and English literature. But none of her teachers play any (positive) role in her life.
Modern Euro-style university culture has failed her -- just as much as the Euro pop-youth culture has failed Mian Mian -- leaving them both as willful, mis-led, lost, and alienated children -- incapable of becoming parents themselves (just like me !)
But at least both of the authors are art obsessed -- and actually, I feel very close to Fan Wu's images of university life -- which feel very similar to my own -- even her special meditation place up on the roof of her dormitory (I also escaped to the roof -- in my case, it was the corridors of the dark and empty football stadium) She was bookish -- I was bookish -- she lived closely with less-than-intellectual roomates fresh-off-the-farm --- and so did I. She found same-sex companionship more accessible -- and was kind of alienated by the college dating game -- and so was I. She was driven to achieve success in an academic career -- and I was -- well -- no, I wasn't -- so, I suppose that's where our similarity ends. And America is such an easier place to live than the People's Republic ! You don't need residency permits to live wherever you choose -- but come to think of it -- the Chinese world was beginning to loosen up -- and Chen Ming's story is set in Guangzhou, that major city just 100 miles up the Pearl River from the extraordinary boomtown of Shenzhen -- and both Chen Ming and her soul-mate, Miao Yan, would have opportunities to live their lives outside the official channels of promotion.
And here's some other, disconnected thoughts:
The main thing I want from these Chinese novels -- or actually, any novels -- is the honest reflection of an author trying to figure things out and put a pattern on life as they've known it.
I don't want them pandering to a particular audience -- which is what anyone who wants to sell something has got to be doing. In that regard -- I have more respect for Fan Wu than any of the others -- i.e. her main character is relentlessly unappealing -- as either a good girl, a rebel, a hot sex person in the city, a Lesbian, or even a literary scholar (she just can't get into reading China's greatest novel: Dream of Red Chamber). She's a selfish little twit --- and her story refuses to go very deep into any of the other characters -- even the trashy Miao girl who becomes the focus of her attention. And yet still -- her story is so poetic.
As a outsider to the Chinese world -- it's impossible for me to know when dialog and situations are realistic -- but strange as all of it is to me -- it still feels that way -- especially the aggressive, biting dialog that characters will have with each other. I've experienced some that candid banter myself with Chinese women - I don't like it -- but that's how they are.
And what about those sex scenes ? They are certainly bizarre - but hardly salacious - as our drunken protagonist hides her head beneath covers as her "lover" consummates the masturbation that she had requested on the eve of her 18th birthday -- almost as strange as that arrangement that Mian Mian had with her mirrors. These kids are so sad !
One of the dramas involved here -- concerns the publication of the book itself -- discussed in the following interview with the author: "Your work was "rejected by several American agents for being too subtle and conservative ... Do you feel that the English speaking world has a misconception that entertainment needs to be racy and unsubtle for the public to buy it?"
To which the Fan Wu replied: "I think it’s a fact, instead of a misconception.....
I discovered [the publisher's] website by chance while trying to find an agent last summer, after I had been rejected by more than thirty agents in the US."
And a final note about Chen Ming's problems with "Dream of Red Chamber" -- i.e. she only liked the poetry, and couldn't get into the dramas of all the characters. Might this be because she didn't share Cao Xueqin's rather Buddhist involvement in the suffering of others ? I don't think she's picked up much from Asian (or European) philosophy or spiritual practice to help her through life. She's read everything --- especially 20th C. literature --- but nothing has taken hold.
And now I wonder -- where are the male voices from that generation -- the poor devils who have to live with these brilliant, self-centered, utterly confused women ? I hope that I can find some of their novels as well,