Though I’ve never read anything by Gish Jen, I’ve read her name for years. Not the same thing, I know! Her short fiction has been in a number of “story of the year” anthologies, and she’s been a finalist for awards I follow. In the first years of the new millennium, she was touted as a refreshing heir to the old guard in American fiction. I feel like it’s been several years since I’ve heard anything about her, though, so I wonder if that’s just me or if her critics are not out there promoting her work like they used to. It could also be that for the last five or six years her work has been mainly nonfiction.
With “No More Maybe,” though, she is back to fiction. Here is how it begins:
Since my mother-in-law came to visit America she is quite busy. First, she has to eat many blueberries. Because in China they are expensive! While here they are comparatively cheap. Then she has to breathe the clean air. My husband, Wuji, and I have lived here for five years, so we are used to the air. But my mother-in-law has to take many fast walks. Breathing, breathing. Trying to clean out her lungs, she says, trying to get all the healthy oxygen inside her. She also has to look at the sky.
Never having read Jen before, I’m not sure if this style is particular to this piece or if she frequently employs these short, bursting sentences. I’ll be anxious to see how it plays out through the story and how you all like it.
Incidentally, a fun fact I learned while looking into Jen this morning. She is a second generation Chinese American, born in Long Island, and I assumed “Gish” was a name from her cultural heritage. But no! Her birth name is Lilian. Gish is a nickname she got in high school, after, for a reason I could not find, the great actress Lilian Gish.