|Much cooler Paperback Cover!|
Ah, people do create others' stories for themselves, as Lydia and Jack's relationship demonstrates. In a startling discovery, Hannah is the only one who sees Jack's true feelings and the target of his love. Everyone believed Jack was having sex with all the girls who rode in his car. No questions asked. Though no one knew the truth except Jack and those girls. I was shocked by James seeking out Louisa, though of course, they did share the same Asian/Chinese looks, and perhaps that, combined with the loss of his daughter and his seeming inability to connect in a meaningful way with Marilyn at the time 'pushed' him into anothers' arms...but personally, I still cannot condone sleeping with people other than your own spouse/partner when in a committed relationship. And poor little Hannah! It was as if she was always just an afterthought to James and Marilyn, and of course, we can easily imagine it might be difficult for Marilyn not to resent Hannah as the reason she had to once again abandon her own college education and hopes of a professional career. During her mother's absence, Lydia discovers her maternal grandmother's cookbook under a bookcase and as she reads it realizes how unhappy her mother must be and blames herself and Nath.
If her mother ever came home and told her to finish her milk, she thought, the page wavering to a blur, she would finish her milk. She would brush her teeth without being asked and stop crying when the doctor gave her shots. She would go to sleep the second her mother turned out the light. She would never get sick again. She would do everything her mother told her. Everything her mother wanted. (137)
And so begins Lydia's own 'hell on earth' as she attempts to be the person her mother and father both expect her to be...what they were not. Any loving, caring parent always wants life to be 'better' for their child/children, however, pushing anyone too much to make them into the person you want them to be is a dangerous proposition, and will usually destroy a relationship.
One of the underlying themes in this book was resentment...there was so much to go around! Both Hannah and Nathan couldn't help but resent Lydia because she was the obvious 'favorite' of both parents. Although Nath had one day actually pushed her off the pier into the lake, Lydia was petrified to think of daily life without him to confide in and debrief with, as well as resenting his apparent freedom to do as he pleased, select his own program of study, and school, etc. Poor Hannah, of course, had to resent both her brother and sister and the way she was constantly ignored, but especially her mother and father for their lack of love and attention, which was all showered on Lydia, then Nath, and then...not her,never her... I believe James resented Marilyn's constant attention to Lydia, feeling she carried her expectations for her daughter too far, putting too much pressure on her. I had a good friend in elementary school who was pressured by her parents to be 'perfect' in her schoolwork. She once scored an "A-" on a high school exam and was grounded and had to eat supper with a textbook at the table, studying. She was punished for an A minus! Each grade she earned must be an "A." She ended up not going to college, though she was our valedictorian! Why? Simply because she refused to allow herself to be pressured like that any more--she knew her parents would never leave her alone, but harass her as they had always done. Isn't that sad? Not that every single person should go to college, it is definitely not for everyone, however, you should at least give your children the freedom to decide without undue pressure. I felt sad for her, as I did for Lydia.
Nath's resentment is finally released somewhat as he pushes Lydia off the pier and into the lake,
...the second he touched her, he knew that he had misunderstood everything. When his palms hit her shoulders, when the water closed over her head, Lydia had felt relief so great she had sighed in a deep choking lungful. She had staggered so readily, fell so eagerly, that she and Nath both knew: that she felt it, too, this pull she now exerted, and didn't want it. That the weight of everything tilting toward her was too much. (154)
...It was too big to talk about, what had happened: it was like a landscape they could not see all at once; it was like the sky at night, which turned and turned so they couldn't find its edges. It would always feel too big. He pushed her in. And then he pulled her out. All her life, Lydia would remember one thing. All his life, Nath would remember another. (155)
Everywhere things came undone. But for the Lees, that knot persisted and tightened, as if Lydia bound them all together. (158)
Yet Lydia herself was coming 'unglued,' so to speak, as Nath thought:
When I get to college--he never completed the sentence, but in his imagined future, he floated away, untethered. (168)
As Nath imagined a life of his own, Lydia was drowning in thoughts of a bleak future without him to save her. Though just as new insights appear to her, her life ends...
I loved this book on so many levels and for so many reasons. Ng brilliantly depicts the marginalization felt by so many who are 'different' from the majority population, especially how that can negatively affect relationships. The danger of parents exerting too much control over their children, living through them, forcing their own unfulfilled goals upon their offspring, effectively smothering any hopes they may have for asserting themselves. Simply put: a great read! Have you read it yet? Are you considering it?
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