Read: "Everything I Never Told You"
I was intrigued by this book because of it's lovely cover lettering: gorgeous brush script that feels as wobbly as water, rippling, starting to sink below the surface...yep. It really describes the story, which follows the unravelling of the Lee family after their daughter Lydia's unexpected death, the result of which is that "the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos." After Lydia's death, her family "unravels, realizing they didn't know her as well as they thought: or themselves, or what has motivated them and, in turn, their loved ones." The story is full of dreams for Lydia: mostly, ones her parents weren't able to pursue themselves, "in Marilyn’s case that her daughter become a doctor rather than a homemaker, in James’s case that Lydia be popular at school, a girl with a busy social life and the center of every party." It's about the origin of the things parents might wish for their children, and the expense of those wishes in Lydia's world.
As a nerd for the written word, the metaphor of eggs used throughout the book made me smile:
"It struck her then, as if someone had said it aloud: her mother was dead, and the only thing worth remembering about her, in the end, was that she had cooked. Marilyn thought uneasily about her own life, of hours spent making breakfasts, serving dinners, packing lunches into neat paper bags. How was it possible to spend so many hours spreading peanut butter across bread? How was it possible to spend so many hours cooking eggs? Sunny-side up for James. Hard-boiled for Nath. Scrambled for Lydia. It behooves a good wife to know how to make an egg behave in six basic ways. Was she sad? Yes. She was sad. About the eggs. About everything." Pg. 85-86
The book is as beautifully written, and the characters are as flawed, real and uncertain, as the cover lettering is: somehow both wavering but just strong enough to stay above the surface. I love the way Ng intertwine's the members of Lydia's family and shows the interconnectedness and cause & affect of actions within relationships that are passed down generation after generation. The psychological aspect of the characters' behaviour is really intriguing, and I found it interesting to piece together, as a reader. The story is universal, and something we all experience: who we are is directly affected by our parents, and they, in turn, by theirs. I see myself in some of these characters, I think everyone will find themselves in at least one of the family members: most of us grew up knowing that our parents wished certain things for us, and, whether we compromised part of ourselves for these things or knew we would disappoint them with our choice when we didn't, I think it's something almost everyone's experienced in some form or another - we're all being projected onto, it's human nature.
There are a lot of hard issues in this book: the pain of losing a loved one, of realizing that you didn't know them as well as you thought you did, that they didn't feel they could show you their true self, and how difficult it is to face the qualities you avoid in yourself and those you love. It asks, how do we define ourselves? And, why? Who are we when we depart from an oppressed past? It's about the feeling of literally being tied to each other, of the string that holds everything together: which, ultimately, is too heavy a weight for Lydia to carry. And, most of all, it's about the inevitable question of what you should do versus what you want to do. It's very much about reaction: what happens at the troubling intersection of how someone else wants your life to go versus how you want your life to go? And what happens to you, and those you love, when you deny yourself? It's a beautifully written study of why we do what we do, and, I think, the importance of knowing why you are the way you are - and not getting lost in expectation.