Monday, August 14, 2017

The Most Angsty Ties

Hesitated starting on Suchen Christine Lim's 'The Lies That Build A Marriage' (2007) because it's not exactly a genre I appreciate. The book sat on the shelves till it yellowed. :P The title of the book kinda sucks and the cover illustration is so tacky. I was a little embarrassed to be seen reading it in public.

If those stories run like Chinese soaps, then it's not my cup of tea. 10 stories and a postscript. Took a deep breath and plunged through it. Damn, they are soaps. But I suppose I rather read them as short stories than watch them as episodes on tv.

Read the first story 'The Morning After', which dealt with an overprotective mother with an unmarried 41-year-old son who now has found a woman he wants to marry, and said mother's daughter, who's son just came out to her as gay. Then read about Pearl Kwai Chee, the adopted daughter of two amah jieh (who might be lesbian partners) in 'My Two Mothers'Okay, these stories are exactly like soaps. I was less enthusiastic, but nevertheless finished them. Teenage pregnancy, abortions in an era of the government campaign to 'Stop At Two', family feuds, lousy men, strong women, et cetera. It does offer a realistic glimpse into others' lives, tensions and stories from a different era. I'm just not very keen on the genre.

Eponymous title story 'The Lies That Build A Marriage' talks about a young girl's growing up years in the 1960s with parents who struggled to maintain businesses that finally failed, and her acquaintance with Miss Pak Mei, a nightclub hostess who was their tenant, and could finally marry into the Wong family when she got pregnant, in spite of her mother-in-law's disapproval. The story moves into the 1980s when the father has failed in each and every venture and became a bus driver, then a taxi driver, and the mother became a hardened woman who has to keep the family afloat. The protagonist learnt later, Pak Mei's full story, and a possible half-sibling in Ming Li, Mei's daughter whom everyone initially thought was fathered by her eventual husband Mr Wong.

A part of me clung to the status quo. The other part sought knowledge and justice. I smelt the faint odour of exploitation somewhere. The truth was I was curious. But curiosity was not reason enough to destroy the truce that my parents had so painfully built between them. And so I dithered that whole year, and did nothing in the end. 
'To be fair to your father, he left his family for me. I never forgot that. his family was rich. Mine was dirt poor. But he left his family to marry me. And we stayed married. To the end.' 
I heard the note of pride in her voice, a woman's pride—he had loved her first and last. By venting her anger at last, she was getting rid of the bitterness in between. I took my mother's hand and squeezed it hard.  
'That is love, Ma.' 
Her thin frame shook in my arms. I held my seventy-six-year-old mother. I held her tight. She's all I have. Pa's gone. Did she love him? Did he love her? Does it matter now? What is love? Is it fidelity? The act of staying together till death do us part? In the end, everything must end in death and forgiveness. If not, how do we live?

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