Joan Is Okay by Weike Wang [in Booklist]
Complicated intergenerational relationships have long fueled fiction, with immigration notably adding further challenges to parent-child understanding and bonding. Weike Wang’s provocative sophomore novel (after Chemistry, 2017) again centers on an accomplished Chinese American Harvard graduate with uneasy social, professional, and familial connections.
Here Wang dissects the titular Joan’s singularity, interrupted by seeming demands from her hospital co-workers, her overfriendly new neighbor, and, most urgently, her immediate family comprised of wealthy older brother Fang, their late father, and surviving mother.
“Hitting is love, berating is love,” is the Chinese adage her parents used to mold her. At 36, U.S.-born Joan is an exemplary ICU doctor in New York City, committed to her career. Her father’s funeral – her parents reverse-emigrated back to China when Joan entered college – is merely a weekend disturbance. When Fang installs their mother in his sprawling Greenwich, Connecticut, compound, Joan only learns of her arrival when Mom uncharacteristically calls to just “chat.” An enforced grief leave finally forces Joan to disconnect from work and learn new ways to be okay.
And, yes, add Wang’s latest to the growing list of pandemic titles.