Well, I finally finished reading Gish Jen’s World and Town. I’m glad I stuck it out and completed the novel. It wasn’t that bad, and my experiences with it in the last half were more positive than in the first. I think part of the problem might have been that, since the narrative didn’t really engage me at first, I found it difficult to give the book an even break. That being said, I do think that this novel took a while to get going. It’s not so much that it’s a low-key narrative–it is–but it’s that the story lacks adequate barbs in the first part. I’m sure there are those readers who will disagree with me on this, but I found little in the first third of the book to dramatically move the narrative forward, or at least to sustain my interests. Hattie Kong is an interesting enough protagonist, but her engagement with the Chhungs, a family of Cambodian refugees, was too slow growing. It eventually bore fruit, and the last half of the novel is where many of the more interesting events and relationship take place. Perhaps I’m being unfair in wanting more of an immediate payoff with this book. I wouldn’t necessarily expect that in other novels. Maybe it was just my frame of mind at the time I first began this book back in June. Or maybe it was the fact that there were many other books competing for, and capturing, my interests, leaving World and Town as more of an afterthought. Still, the novel does have its merits.
One final thought: I noted in my last posting on this book Allegra Goodman’s high praise for this novel. Now, having finished the book, I see that Goodman is among those thanked in Jen’s acknowledgements. Is it really fair and objective that Amazon.com got to “sell” Jen’s novel someone with a close connection to the book’s development, or at least someone who knows Jen fairly well?