Amy Tans latest novel, The Bonesetters Daughter
, is a novel in three parts, the first of which is fine enough, the second of which is very fine, and the third of which is I dont know what.
Well start, as Tan does, with the fine enough part, which has as lead character Ruth Young, a ghostwriter in her late 40s in contemporary San Francisco who deciphers the scribblings of self-help, New Age, and cyberspace-loving authors who havent the time or talent to put word to thought themselves. Young lives with Art (a university linguist) and Arts two teenage daughters (full-time whiners), and things are tense. Because? Young is getting on Arts nerves. Young is too accommodating when it comes to hand-holding her spaced-out clients. Young too easily makes easy matters difficult. Young elects to slide into mutism every August 12th. And Youngs mother, LuLing (in the early stages of Alzheimers?), is getting on Youngs nerves too. These scenes add up to what has become in too much fiction these days a dependable and upper-middle-class to do list that may be convincingly rendered but not especially of interest to you or anyone.
Skip to the I dont know what and third part of The Bonesetters Daughter
: LuLing gets a boyfriend. (Impossibly.) Young gets back on track with Art. (Quickly. Unconvincingly.) Young starts writing her own, instead of others, stuff. (Predictably.) And LuLing and Young get back in touch and back to basics, way back, then out of one anothers hair. (Inconceivably.)
Which leaves us the middle and very fine section of Tans book: LuLings girlhood in China in the Thirties, and what went down in a small village called Immortal Heart, at the edge of a cliff overlooking a ravine called the End of the World, inside the household of an extended family of quality inkmakers, and before LuLings birth, inside the thought of LuLings biological mother and inside the events she put up with as tradition dictated. Then back to LuLing and what she went through during the war and after in her efforts to reach California.
This is complicated, verging on mystifying, but satisfying storytelling on Tans part, rich in custom and richer in telling, human detail, detail the author puts more to her disposal than the latter-day observations that litter and detract from her books parts one and three.
What modernist claimed his story lines had a clear beginning, middle, and end, but not in that order? The Bonesetters Daughter
makes that order easy, and its this: go for the middle, double-back to the beginning, end up last.
Body and Soul
In 1987, the Church Health Center opened its doors with this goal in mind: to bring quality health care in Memphis to the working poor, their families, the elderly, the uninsured, the homeless. Fourteen years later, the center has grown to become a model of its kind-- treating over 30,000 patients per year and staffed by over 400 physician volunteers, in addition to nurses, dentists, optometrists, and office workers. It receives no government funds; the current annual budget of $6.5 million is based on the contributions of over 200 congregations throughout the city.
Dr. G. Scott Morris, the United Methodist minister who founded the center, is now author of a book that tells the stories of 14 patients and through those stories, Morris own. The introduction to Relief For the Body, Renewal For the Soul
(Paraclete Press) covers the authors personal response to the biblical injunction to treat the sick and care for the poor, then moves briefly to his seminary and medical training, then to his experience in Zimbabwe with village health-care workers and a witch doctor, a man who taught him to look for the spiritual source of disease, not just the scientific. But by far the greater share of the book is given over to the individuals who sought help from Church Health, got it, and in turn helped underscore Morris understanding of his own ministry Ñ to treat body and soul by putting belief into action.
To body and soul add mind in the case of The Bonesetters Daughter Building the Therapeutic Sanctuary
(1st Books Library) by Ron McDonald, pastoral counselor at the Church Health Center. The subtitle reads, The Fundamentals of Psychotherapy: A Pastoral Counseling Perspective, which gives you some idea of the authors blueprint approach to setting up a sanctuary of healing, one that is centered on the relationship between therapist and patient and built on the boundary between religion and psychology. His starting point, however, is faith, and in what may come as a shock to some, that applies as much to the counselor as it can to the patient. The book is a basic how-to on therapeutic principles that are so basic--Lesson One: Humility-- not a few strictly secular psychotherapists would do well to have themselves a look.
[Dr. G. Scott Morris will be signing copies of his book at Burkes Book Store on Thursday, April 5th, from 5 to 7 p.m.]