Tuesday, March 03, 2015

The Joy Luck Club - Finally

Some of you will remember that I promised myself last month that I would start working on what has become a rather permanent TBR stack, the one spread throughout the books on my bookshelves.  I say "rather permanent" because many of the books have been there since the mid-eighties, and they are in the same pristine condition they were in when I brought them home from the bookstore all those years ago.

I started the project with Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club and was beginning to wonder if it would end up being one of those books I abandoned upon reaching page forty because it had not yet caught my imagination.  Well, it was a close call, but I made it past that self-imposed cut-off point, and I'm very much enjoying Tan's writing now (I'm on page 102 as I write this).

I suspect that it has been a number of years since most of you read The Joy Luck Club, so I will refresh your memories a bit.  The book is about four elderly Chinese women and the four daughters they raised in America after themselves coming to this country as young women.  

The book is neatly divided into four sections, with each section itself subdivided into four separate parts in which either one of the mothers or one of their daughters serves as a first person narrator.  The first and fourth sections are devoted to the mothers, and the second and third to the daughters.  The first 100 pages have carried me through the initial stories of each of the mothers and the first of the daughter narratives.  

Amy Tan as seen in first edition of The Joy Luck Club
What struck me this evening is that the first of the daughter-story (told in the voice of Waverly Jong), called "Rules of the Game," is a near perfect short story.  So I started to wonder which came first, a bunch of short stories or a novel.  And a look at the book's copyright page answered my question: short stories came first, and they were then cobbled together to form one of the most successful debut novels of the eighties.

On that copyright page, Tan thanks various magazines (The Atlantic, Grazia, Ladies' Home Journal, San Francisco Focus, Seventeen, and The Short Story Review) "in which some of the stories, in slightly different form, have already appeared."  I know that is a common approach, especially, I think, to first novels, but I have to wonder if Tan was surprised by the immense success that she found by combining all the stories into a novel.  

And I wonder why I never knew this about The Joy Luck Club before tonight...


  1. :) I really enjoyed this one when it came out. Haven't felt the same about her later novels, though.

    1. As a debut novel, I can see why everyone got excited about it and its author. It's a solidly written novel (or group of short stories, whichever it is), but I don't think it's all that exceptional in the long run when put into the perspective of the rest of her career.