As shameful as this is to admit, Wendy Lee’s Across a Green Ocean is the first published novel I’ve read this year. Yes, it is almost the end June. Yes, I am supposedly a writer of fiction. So half of the year has come and gone and I’ve read a total of ONE book!
Well, better one than none, right? At least that’s what I’m telling myself. And I’m so glad the one book I have read is Wendy’s. Wendy and I are NYU MFA compatriots, though I never actually knew her while she was attending the program. But we’ve become friends since, and I’m happy to let readers know there’s a fine novel waiting for them.
Susan Choi wrote in her blurb for Across a Green Ocean that “the past is always present, and the present is never quite what it seems,” and this is really quite the apt descriptor for this novel. The primary power of Across a Green Ocean is derived from remembrance, as the three main characters, mother (Ling), daughter (Emily), and son (Michael), delve deeply into their past through flashbacks to come to decisions and realizations about their intertwining lives after the passing of Han, the patriarch of the family. The novel spans both time (decades in memory) and space (USA and China), and Wendy does a marvelous job of keeping this complicated narrative machine running smoothly. There’s a lot of moving parts here plotwise, and varying POV techniques, too, as the Michael section is written in the present tense while the Ling and Emily sections are in the more traditional past tense.
I think this was a very ingenious move by Wendy, to put Michael’s sections in the present, because he is the one who has to carry the toughest load. He spends the bulk of the novel in a remote part of China, so we as readers have the most difficult time being in his shoes. By employing the present tense, we feel so much closer to the action. Everything Michael is encountering is happening now, and the immediacy is very much felt. Bravo!
I’m not going to spend much time discussing the plot, as a quick click to Amazon will give you all you need (and will also give you the great opportunity to buy the book!). One thing I found very funny is that Across a Green Ocean and my forthcoming novel, Love Love, share some odd plot similarities:
- a family story starring brother and sister
- the brother goes somewhere else to find himself
- a letter from the past is the driving factor for this search
Weird, right? Not quite Twilight-Zone level weirdness, but weird nonetheless. Oh, and these are both our second novels. Must be something in the water.
Across a Green Ocean