Wednesday, April 02, 2003

The Bridegroom, short story collection by Ha Jin

Everybody loves Ha Jin. He won the National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award for his novel Waiting, and his previous short story collections Oceans of Words and Under the Red Flag have won the PEN/Hemingway prize and The Flannery O'Connor Award for Fiction, respectively. So he's well liked. My friend Marianne likes him too, and she lent me this collection with the caveat that she wants it back, because she loves Ha Jin.

The fact that he won the PEN/Hemingway is appropriate, since his style is very reminiscent of Ernest's; Jin's prose is tight and journalistic, and nearly entirely free of poetic embellishment. At times I find him a bit dry and detached. Although I'm not a rabid Hemingway fan, his brittle prose can pack an unexpected emotional punch. Ha Jin's stories carry little of this. There is tragedy in them, but we are removed from it. In "The Woman from New York," when the returning mother is denied any access to her daughter, I perceive the injustice, feel indignation, but share none of her grief. On the one hand I can see this as a strength; in choosing not to engage the emotions Jin leaves the intellect open to the harsh realities of the situation. And yet, when I read fiction I want to feel something, too.

Ha Jin's style is so journalistic that the closest thing I can compare it to is Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn's China Wakes, the prize-winning book by two New York Times journalists. So the stories are realistic, at least. I believed them, and they engaged my liberal distaste for totalitarianism and intolerance, but as fiction they were at times less than interesting. I'm thinking, in particular, of "Alive," which I found a frustrating story in its (to my mind) failure to internally connect the different states of its protagonist as he progressed into amnesia and back to remembrance. Other stories, however, notably "In the Kindergarten," "Broken," and "Flame," are well-structured and nuanced, while still others are funny and tragic at the same time. So, a mixed review; but I'm intrigued enough to want to read more.


Post a Comment

<< Home