Joan is Okay by Weike Wang: A review

 

Joan is most definitely okay if a little weird. She is a Chinese-American doctor working in an ICU in New York City. She lives alone in a sparsely furnished apartment. She does not own a television and barely even owns a chair, but she seems perfectly happy with her existence. She doesn't relate well with humans but she loves machines, especially the machines in the ICU. Her parents who had originally emigrated from China to the U.S. returned to China once both of their children, Joan and her older brother Fang, were grown and in college. They saw their jobs as parents as done.

Fang became an extremely successful hedge fund manager, meeting all his parents' expectations. He married and had a couple of children and he and his family now live on a rather palatial ten-acre compound in Greenwich, Connecticut. He pressures Joan to leave the hospital ICU, move to Greenwich and open a private practice there. When their father dies in China, he and Joan travel there. Joan stays for two days. Fang stays for two weeks. Later their mother comes back to America and stays with Fang and his family. She and Fang increase the pressure on Joan.

Joan has no real friends but when Mark moves in across the hall from her, he inserts himself into her life. When he sees her apartment and realizes it is essentially unfurnished, he starts giving her things to make the place a bit homier. Or what he sees as homier. Joan is oblivious. She's perfectly happy with what she has. Her interactions with Mark are the most normal social interactions she has and one somehow expects their relationship to develop into something deeper, but of course, it is not to be.

If you are beginning to suspect that Joan is just a bit strange, you are not wrong. She is smart but extremely introverted and with limited social skills. Her first impression of the people she meets is always defined by their height and weight. She shows classic signs of Asperger's syndrome, characterized by repetitive patterns of behavior, restricted interests, and difficulties with social interactions. She is in her mid-thirties and is being pressured by her family to get married and have kids. Her sister-in-law expresses the opinion that she will not be a real woman until that happens.

Joan narrates her story and it reads almost like an autobiography. As we approach the end, the coronavirus pandemic is getting underway and it affects Joan personally. The ending felt a bit abrupt, probably because I had become invested in Joan and I wanted to see her story continue to a "happily ever after." She is a memorable and very real character. I still find myself wondering how she is coping. If Weike Wang ever decided to write another book featuring her, I would certainly read it.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars   

Comments

  1. Asperger's is a mysterious extension of awareness... i sympathize with the machine/human thing; the former at least has solvable problems...

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    1. That, I think, is what Joan found so attractive about machines. They were fixable. Quite often, humans are not.

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  2. I was hoping for a more optimistic ending perhaps with some socializing with Mark but, Joan is Joan.

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  3. Everyone seems to be reading and reviewing this book lately. And it sounds good to me every time I see it. :)

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  4. This reminds me quite a bit of Sayaka Murata's Convenience Store Woman.

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    1. You are spot on! It seems to me I have read several books in recent months that featured central characters with similar personalities.

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  5. I'm interested in this one. I love a character that you want to read more about, and Joan intrigues me!

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    1. She is quite a wonderful character. You'll like her if you get to know her.

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  6. I thought this was an excellent depiction of a character. Joan was fascinating.

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    1. Indeed she was. Wang really hit a home run with that character.

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  7. I just read this one as well. I liked Joan but wanted more happiness or something for her. I agree with Diane a bit ... But I liked some of her observations along the way.

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    1. Joan is a unique personality and I suppose any other ending for her would have been out of character.

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  8. I admit the pandemic setting is what appeals most to me about this book. It seems to be well liked over all and so I will have to give it a try!

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    1. The pandemic aspect of the narrative certainly lends an extra bit of relevancy to it.

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