I'm a huge fan of Amy Tan and I have read all, but her most recent novel. Tan's third novel, The Hundred Secret Senses, follows two sisters as they try to overcome culture gaps to form a bond.
The narrator is Olivia, a photographer who sets up the story through flashbacks to her childhood. On Olivia's father's death bed, he tells his family that he has fathered a child who is living in a remote village in China and he wishes for his daughter to be brought to America. When Olivia is six, her adult half-sister, Kwan, is brought to live with her family in San Francisco.
Kwan is a bit quirky. She claims to be able to see and communicate with the dead. She is eager to please her new American family, especially Olivia, who finds her customs and invasive nature to be off putting. Most of Kwan's visions of the dead are dismissed as crazy, until Kwan's stories begin to captivate Olivia. Kwan, a very capable storyteller, draws Olivia into her world and she begins to give into the tales of ghosts and past lives.
The Hundred Secret Senses failed to grab my attention. It's a messy story. Half of the novel is comprised of Kwan's ghost stories and the other half is Olivia's rocky relationship with her husband Simon. The story is muddled and between the two story lines, it takes a painfully long time to play out and intersect. Approximately 95% of the novel is leading up to a reveal that just doesn't merit the time invested in the build.
What's strange is that the story feels more like it should have been broken down into a series of short stories. The tone doesn't match between the various sections and it's jarring. I really didn't care about Kwan's ghost stories. They bogged down the pacing and it took me weeks to finish the book due to a lack of interest.
The section involving the trip to China began to renew my interest in the novel. I enjoyed Olivia and Simon's adventure in a foreign culture. However, it wasn't too long before Kwan's stories came back into play and I struggled through the last twenty pages. Kwan is an interesting character, but only when she is rooted in the real world and not in her fantasy life.
I love Tan's writing style and her stories are usually captivating, but this isn't the best example of her talents.