BookDragon Books for the Diverse Reader

Sidewalk Dancing: A Novel in Stories by Letitia Moffitt

Sidewalk DancingTwo genres set my reading heart aflutter: novels in verse (highly ironic as I am an utter poetry dullard) and interlinked short storied novels. Hapa Hawaiian native Letitia Moffit’s Sidewalk Dancing falls in the latter category … so high hopes loomed as I opened the promising, autobiographically-inspired debut title. Although Dancing resulted in a few pitter-patters, it ultimately proved uneven: the quality discrepancy from chapter to chapter felt further heightened because Moffitt’s stronger stories are so much richer and resonating than those less successful.

The narrative that emerges revolves around three searching souls that make up a small, scattered, family. Grace Chao finally escapes the responsibility of caring for her six siblings after their widowed mother gambles away the family’s “‘comfortable'” inheritance and trades one island home, Hong Kong, for another, Hawai’i . She meets and marries the peripatetic (and multiply divorced) George McGee, who has big dreams but lacks the follow-through toward reality.

Their daughter, Miranda, from whose point of view the majority of the stories are told, leaves her parents and her past, settling as far as she can in New York City. Residual connections stay limited to phone calls and the rare visit, although she never severs the familial bonds: “I have Amy Tan to blame,” Miranda muses in “Only Say True,” “at least in part, for the relationship I have with my mother. If that damned Joy Luck Club had never been written, nor written so winningly, nor sold in such quantities, my mother would never have realized the power and pathos of the Chinese-mother-Chinese-American-daughter bond.” [Interestingly, Moffit’s back cover bio cites the pioneering Maxine Hong Kingston as her mentor.]

The 13 elliptically linked stories reveal the Chao/McGee lives, of which the strongest stories are about Grace and George: their meeting in “Knives,” their home building in “Model Homes,” their re-invention as restaurant owners in “The Leilani Diner.” Most memorable of the Miranda stories is the fantastical “Living Dead,” in which she hauntingly explores the disconnects of her isolated, lonely life.

In spite of Moffitt’s agile, fluid writing, what diminishes some of the lesser stories is a certain all-too-familiar narrative predictability: the uncomfortable child of mismatched parents who works too hard to disassociate herself from a strained relationship marked by cultural and generational misunderstandings. While many APA readers will recognize versions their own experiences between Dancing’s pages, perhaps staying too close to the autobiographical restrained some of Moffit’s creativity here. Now that she’s mined her own past, hopefully her imagination will have free rein to catch up to the enviable levels that are her writing prowess.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2013


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