With dazzling wit and compassion, Gish Jen—author of the highly acclaimed novels Typical American and Mona in the Promised Land—looks at ambition and compromise at century’s end and finds that much of the action is as familiar—and as strange—as the things we know to be most deeply true about ourselves.
In eight stories wonderfully alive stories, Jen chronicles Chinese and other Americans as they exuberantly win, lose, love, hate, overachieve, underachieve, and generally take on America—with sometimes comic, sometimes heartbreaking results.
Life not is not what it was a generation ago, but it is any easier? A Chinese-American woman attempts to discipline her Chinese-Irish-American grandchild, only to come up against her daughter’s state-of-the-art parenting. A grown man flees to China to escape his disapproving mother, “who called him everyday lest he forget she was not speaking to him.” A computer expert accidentally books himself into a welfare hotel.
The stories in Who’s Irish? prove once again that Gish Jen is an essential writer for our time—a writer who moves and entertains us as she updates the American Dream.
“The product of a true craftswoman whose gifts transcend all cultural and ethnic labels.” —Dottie Enrico, USA Today
“Jen’s performance isn’t a series of one-liners, but an elaborate balancing act: Chinese and American, painful and funny…The result: an esthetic whole even greater than the sum of its entertaining parts.” —David Gates, Newsweek
“Her subject matter is so appealing, it almost obscures the power and suppleness of her language…
“Gish Jen’s stories are keenly observed moments in time, in which the characters’ foibles predominate just long enough for an odd equilibrium to be established between their yearning and their movement toward small, unexpected moments of grace. In many of the stories, the characters seem to be trying their lives on for size: discomfiting to observe, though at the time, offering readers a sadness convincingly tinged with humor.” – Ann Beattie
“A light-hearted novel of radiant charm and human warmth, Gish Jen’s funny, headlong, and completely delightful narrative of high-achieving Chinese and Jewish suburbanites is indelibly American and could unfold nowhere else.” –Cynthia Ozick
Jen’s story collection includes “Birthmates” which John Updike selected for his recent “Best American Short Stories of the Century.” This is one of the few literary stories I’ve read with any insight into the business world and it shatters many a stereotype. My favorites, however, were the title story “Who’s Irish?” and “Just Wait” (though I liked them all — not a dud in the collection).
In “Who’s Irish,” Jen subtly balances the humor and pathos of both intergenerational and interracial conflicts. Reading “Just Wait,” I was on the floor laughing at the sibling dynamics, but found much to chew on later.
The final story, “House, House, Home” goes far beyond the surface issues of a single mother in suburbia to provide insights into what attracts, and separates, men and women. The ending was unbelievably moving. This is a long story and I would not have minded it being a novel.
Jen seems to have a talent for treating weighty subject matters within the confines of “ordinary life” (nothing exotic here). She also takes amazing risks with racial material without stumbling. As with her last novel, Jen’s voice in these stories is unique, intelligent, funny but not off-putting. Highly recommended.