Frances Hwang: “Blue Roses”

"Blue Roses"
by Frances Hwang
Originally published in the November 1, 2010 issue of The New Yorker.

I’ve put off writing about this story long enough. Sometimes the hardest things to write about are the things I neither hate nore like, those pieces that are fine, neither remarkable or terrible. This is such a piece.

“Blue Roses” is an interesting story about an older woman and her conflicts with her grown children and her elderly friend. When the story begins, a daughter has invited her mother (our narrator) to Christmas dinner. The mother asks if she could bring along her friend who is recently widowed. When the daughter hesitates, saying she’s not really their friend, the mother is furious and refuses to go to Christmas dinner or to speak to this daughter again.

On the other hand, the elderly friend is a bit of a pain. High-mannered, this friend has high expectations of servitude, which her husband always seemed to meet.

The voice is believable, the mother being angry, sometimes unreasonably vindictive, while at the same time having a desire to help this unreasonable friend.

Alas, as much as I admired Hwang’s premise and the skill with which she tells this complicated story, it never grabbed on to me. Nevertheless, it is well written and well structured, a decent if not great story.

7 thoughts on “Frances Hwang: “Blue Roses”

  1. I enjoyed this story-strong narratorial voice of a rather demanding, harsh, guilt-tripping Chinese-American mother who is feuding with a daughter and also dealing with a difficult aging friend. I liked the humor and frankness of our narrator and how she deals with life’s disappointments and resentments with both humor and bitterness. This and every story since the Twenty Under 40 have been really solid and much better than just about any of that rather disappointing lot.

  2. This story was a downer on every level, from the voice to the boring plot line. Whining is not a solid foundation to carry the proseline and this was weighted with whining.

  3. I think I landed somewhere in the middle with this story. I finished it early last week and never felt strongly enough about it in any way that would encourage me to write my thoughts. But they are now posted above, if in a somewhat cursory manner.

  4. I thought this was a beautiful story, beautifully written. The character is not initally likable, yet so human and fallible and most of all believable, that you can’t help but identify with her on a human level. The story seems to be on the surface just the tale of a contentious women entering her senior years, dismayed and picky about her family, and her relationship with a women who is in actuality more high maintenance than her family. But the themes that are explored are a compelling subtext; how the Americanized children are so insensitive to the respects and manners of the past; how strange it is to get old with no one really paying attention to the character till she has a mini meltdown; and the wondrous and inexplicable bond of friendship which is really a lifeline in a busy, indifferent world.

    Touching, beautiful a mini miracle of writing. I will be looking for more by this author.

  5. I like the variety of comments so far. I’ve picked this story to do a little review/analysis for myself, primarily because the protagonist is not likeable, at least not for me.

    And that’s what I find interesting. She’s intelligent, somewhat self aware, yet petty, manipulative, and still able to be manipulated and able to be caring. She’s like the rest of us — flawed, unable to see some of our flaws and unable to manage all of the ones that we do see.

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