Friday, March 27, 2015

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste NG

Leo Tolstoy wrote that, “…each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” The Lee family, living in a small town in Ohio during the 1970s, is a good example of this. Their unhappiness, which had driven middle child Lydia to disappear on a summer night, involved none of the usual components of the dysfunctional family. There was no alcoholism, drug abuse, physical violence, mental illness, poverty or infidelity. There was simply a lack of communication.
The parents, James and Marilyn, were disappointed with their lives. Marilyn had planned to defy her mother’s expectations for her, perfect wife and homemaker, by becoming one of the few women of the 1950’s to qualify for medical school. James, the son of Chinese immigrants, striving to be accepted as a true American, became a professor who taught a class focusing on the American cowboy. Unfortunately, Marilyn’s plans for medical school were disrupted by an unexpected pregnancy. And the academic community put little value on James’ area of expertise. He was viewed as odd and was offered only one teaching position.
So they transferred their ambitions to their children, particularly Lydia. Marilyn, making the same mistake her own mother had made, assumed that Lydia wanted what she had wanted, medical school. And James pushed her into a tortured social life which had her lurking at the edges of the gym at school dances and pretending to talk to friends on the telephone. Meanwhile they ignored their other two children, Nath and Hannah, whose real interests and abilities seemed insignificant in comparison to those imagined for Lydia.

The family imploded after Lydia’s disappearance, shortly after her sixteenth birthday. Rage and recrimination from past slights and injuries came to the surface and drove the family members apart. It seemed a point of no return had been reached. Only quiet and observant Hannah, who knew some of Lydia’s secrets, could help the others come to terms with what had happened.