Second-generation Chinese-American Carnegie Wong just can't catch a break. His manipulative mother criticizes every aspect of his life, including Janie, the voluptuous, flaxen-haired WASP he married (mean-spirited Mama Wong dubs her Blondie ). Following her death after a prolonged bout with Alzheimer's during which time she remained lucid enough to spew daily doses of venom Mama Wong continues to run her son's life, stipulating in her will that a cousin be brought over from mainland China to properly care for the Wong's two adopted Asian daughters, Wendy and Lizzy, and Bailey, their biological son. Soon after the shy, mysterious nanny Lan arrives, Carnegie suspects that his devious mother had more than the well-being of her grandchildren on her mind.
A critically acclaimed novelist and short story writer whose works include Typical American and Mona in the Promised Land, Chinese-American Gish Jen is known for quirky characters and candid commentary on cultural assimilation. In this latest offering, Jen's use of shifting first-person narrative threatens to overshadow her wry, seamless prose. Readers must divide their attention between the story (which itself moves between past and present) and the ever-changing perspectives from which it is being told. As the novel progresses, Lan becomes ever more attached both to Carnegie and his impressionable teenaged girls, much to the chagrin of Carnegie's levelheaded wife. The Love Wife'sclever plot maintains momentum until the end, when the long-awaited truth about Lan's identity is revealed. The novel's disjointed narrative structure won't dampen the enthusiasm of Gish Jen's fans, who will embrace her mordant musings on destiny, ethnicity and the richly textured fabric of the modern American family.