Sunday, August 22, 2010

On the Road Again

August 9, 2010
This week I had the chance to revisit Mexico. Once again, I took the trip in literary form, although I do hope to venture there in body one day. Last time I went it was with Sal and his dead beat, no-good buddy Dean in Jack Kerouac's On the Road. This time I ventured with cowboys, and let me tell you, it was much more exciting.

For this week's selection I decided to take a break from The Lord of the Rings, which has suddenly morphed from pleasurable reading experience to a slightly arduous and dreaded task. I am determined not to fall behind in my reading, so after three days passed and I was only 30 pages into LOTR Book Two: The Two Towers, I picked up Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses which I cruised through in about 48 hours.

All the Pretty Horses is the second book I've read by Cormac McCarthy and I look forward to reading more. I'm particularly hoping to get my paws on a copy of his Blood Meridian. Earlier this year I read his post-apocalyptic novel The Road and was shaken to my core. I learned what the word "catamite" means (sometimes it's better not to look up words you don't know, no matter what your mother may have told you). I am still having nightmares. Next to Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, no book has had more psychological effect on me than The Road.

McCarthy is different from most authors. He writes simply yet somehow manages rich and even chilling descriptions. Both novels contained plenty of dialogue but you won't find a single set of quotation marks within their stories. Compound-complex sentences are written in such a way that would surely dumbfound most high school English teachers. The Road doesn't even contain chapters, a format that undoubtedly breaks unspoken novel-writing etiquette. Despite (because of?) his strange style, I find myself swept up into his novels.

All the Pretty Horses may best be described as a Western, another genre of literature I rarely dabble in. I went to high school with enough Confederate flag-touting, Wrangler jeans-wearing, cowboy boot-sporting boys to know I'm not much interested in "cowboys" (with or without cow). I've never been much of a horse lover either. I would probably even describe myself as a city girl, but my sense of adventure and love for travel helps me appreciate a trip from Texas to Mexico on horseback. Throw in a cross-culturally love affair and I'm doubly sold.

The love (sub-) plot allows me to tie what I'm reading into my own life. Fancy that. Our American protagonist, John Grady, falls head over heals for a sexy foreigner, Alejandra. Grady is not as lucky in love as I have been since a disapproving father stands in his way. Ah, the dreaded in-la, challenging no matter where one is in the world. I am often asked questions about my relationship with my own mother-in-law, which I can shed a little light on here.

Most Americans have it easy, as one's significant other's family rarely makes a daily appearance in her life. For most it is just monthly and for those (lucky?) few, it is reserved for holidays and Christenings. In most parts of the world, this is hardly the case. Perhaps nowhere is it more true than in China where family reigns supreme over friendship, personal identity, and (dare I say) work. While the role of family is evolving, I don't think it uncommon here to deal with in-laws on a daily basis. Traditionally, after Chinese women wed, they would live with their husband's family. I'm glad some traditions are changing.

When I returned to China in 2008, I found myself back in Ming's hometown. I didn't realize how different life would be for me being married as opposed to simply dating. Ming's mom came to our home for most dinners and many lunches. Hardly a day would pass without seeing her. Despite her kindness and good-spirit, my sanity suffered and it showed. Eventually she backed off, for which I consider myself extremely fortunate and thoroughly grateful. In-laws, after all, can wield a frightening amount of power and influence.  This is made painfully clear in All the Pretty Horses.

Dating cross-culturally or cross-racially can lead to particularly hazardous family matters. Those of us that do dabble in such affairs rarely realize what we are getting ourselves into. I have a wonderful mother-in-law who has accepted me into her life from the start. Many foreigners in China have found their relationships doomed by their S.O.'s disapproving family members. I think most Americans cannot comprehend the gravity of such a situation. Most of us, no matter how overbearing and frustrating our S.O.'s parents, have it better than we realize. If you have any doubts, read All the Pretty Horses. I think you'll feel better about your situation. However, if you rather read about a father and son duo scavenging for food while avoiding cannibals, The Road might be a better pick for you.

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