Thursday, July 30, 2015

Re Jane, by Patricia Park

Since I was never a big fan of Jane Eyre, it is perhaps surprising that I have in a fairly short span of time read two novels that are essentially retellings of that story. Half American and half Korean, Jane Re is an orphan who knows little about her parents, except that they disgraced her Korean family. Raised by her Korean aunt and uncle in Flushing, Jane is now a recent college graduate unable to find a job in finance. She is so anxious to get away from her uncle's oppressive household (not to mention his bodega Food, where she is expected to work until she finds a job), she signs on as an au pair in the Mazer-Farley household.

Beth Mazer is a college professor and not the most fun or flexible person around. She has prepared a voluminous "Primer" on the family and their practices that Jane must read in order not to make any mistakes in her care of Devin (like letting her have an Italian ice every day after school--gasp!). Beth takes Jane under her intellectual wing, assigning books for Jane to read and spending hours in her attic office (yes, the reference to the crazy wife is pretty obvious) lecturing Jane on feminist literary theories. Ed Farley is a high school teacher working on his dissertation, assigned one drawer in the refrigerator where he can keep the makings for sandwiches he makes for himself (and soon for Jane) every night after Beth and Devin are in bed.

The inevitable happens: Jane and Ed fall in love and Jane runs away to Korea where she learns the truth about her parents and almost marries a student in her English class. However, she eventually returns to New York, her best friend Nina, and Ed. To avoid spoiling the book, I won't reveal more.

Re Jane is essentially chick lit, but the cross-cultural aspect and the author's humor made it enjoyable nonetheless. The 9/11 element, on the other hand, seemed gratuitous. Still, a good beach read.

Favorite Passage:

I realized that was the internal logic of our family: Tear each other down before we step outside and face public humiliation.

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