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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Saturday, June 22, 2024

’Bridegroom’ has legends, but not the classic kind

While Ha Jin's newest collection of short stories 'The Bridegroom' stands a welcome distance away from much of today's hyper-self-aware and cynical fiction, its simplicity often bleeds into stupidity, leaving the reader to wonder if they've somehow missed a few layers of subtlety.  




'The Bridegroom' is full of two-dimensional characters who have presumably been flattened to give the collection a folky quality. A noble idea, but Jin has failed to lace his tales with the heroics and magic that make the classic legends classic. The result is a paint-by-number anecdote teaching about communism and Chinese culture. 




Some of the stories are redeemed by Jin's strong grasp of the 'we' narrative. The multi-narrating voice effectively relays the strong feeling of the stress placed on community living in China, on the way the individual is placed below the unit. In stories where the 'we' narrator is invoked, Jin skillfully weaves the device in, not letting it jar his reader.  




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Interesting questions are posed: How does China deal with gays? Natural disasters? Sexually deviant women? But the answers are generally unsatisfying.  




The opening story begins with a chilling scenario and deflates into what can only be described as a detailed urban legend. When the narrator of the title story (a middle-aged male) is introduced to the concept of homosexuality, the premise is not only hard to swallow but his cookie-cutter reactions and blind faith in the state seem to be components of a horribly misfired parody.  




'The Entrepreneur' is a story in which the main character goes from rags to riches and stuns both himself and the reader with the revelation that money cannot always buy happiness. 




However, Jin does provide a nice introduction to Chinese culture, if that's what you're looking for. But overall, 'The Bridegroom' has the feel of a bad translation. If the reader wants suspense, character development and relevance'they may have to keep browsing. 




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