Amy Tan begins The Opposite of Fate: A Book of Musings
, a collection of essays that spans her literary career, on a humorous note; she is troubled that her life and novels have become the subject of a "Cliffs Notes" abridgement. Reading the little yellow booklet, she discovers that her work is seen as complex and rich with symbolism. However, Tan assures her readers that she has no lofty, literary intentions in writing her novels--she writes for herself, and insists that the recurring patterns and themes that critics find in them are entirely their own making. This self-deprecating stance, coupled with Tans own clarification of her intentions, makes The Opposite of Fate
feel like an extended, private conversation with the author.
Tan manages to find grace and frequent comedy in her sometimes painful life, and she takes great pleasure in being a celebrity. "Midlife Confidential" brings readers on tour with Tan and the rest of the leather-clad writers rock band, the Rock-Bottom Remainders. And "Angst and the Second Book" is a brutally honest, frequently hysterical reflection on Tans self-conscious attempts to follow the success of The Joy Luck Club.
In a collection so diverse and spanning such a long period of time, inevitably some of the pieces feel dated or repetitious. Yet, Tan comes off as a remarkably humble and sane woman, and the book works well both to fill in her biography and to clarify the boundaries between her life and her fiction. In her final, title essay, Tan juxtaposes her personal struggles against a persistent disease with the nations struggles against terrorism in the aftermath of 9/11. She declares her transformative, artistic power over tragedy, reflecting: "As a storyteller, I know that if I dont like the ending, I can write a better one." --Patrick OKelley
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From Publishers Weekly
In her first collection of essays, Tan explains that she writes stories to understand "how things happen." These musings, as wide-ranging as a graduation speech at Simmons College and a childhood contest entry, offer insight into how her family history has shaped the questions she chooses to ask. Tan herself reads the essays, which suits the intimate, self-congratulatory tone of the collection. Several of the pieces focus on Tan's tragedies-her father and brother died from brain tumors, her mother suffered violent bouts of depression and her best friend was murdered-but her successes also receive a fair amount of space. One can almost hear the pride in Tan's voice as she talks of her associations with other famous writers, how her name has been used as a question on Jeopardy and how The Joy Luck Club appears alongside "Bill" (Shakespeare) and "Jim" (Conrad) in Cliff's Notes, a fact that Tan uses to launch into a tirade about current perceptions of multicultural and Asian-American literature. The essays work best when Tan is telling a story, as when she relays her battle with Lyme disease or describes her mother's final days. Still, there's no denying that Tan has every right to be proud, having led a peripatetic and extraordinary life.
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