Monday, April 2, 2007

techniques of distancing and close-up

“wait for me,” by An Na, her latest novel after her Printz Award winner, "A Step From Heaven," is able to summon a good deal of emotional response from the reader. It draws on the powerful, basic need of every youth to adhere to a parent’s expectations, but often trying at the same time to find a different life path than the one held out by the parent.

Mina’s mother, Uhmma, is intent on her oldest daughter going to a prestigious university, preferably Harvard, and the mother consumes herself, while ignoring her disdained husband, and her youngest child, Suna, in pursuit of her goal for Mina. But Mina has been deceiving her mother for years about her less than adequate grades at school, and has been pocketing money from the receipts at their dry cleaning shop, meant to help support herself when she will look for a job after graduating high school and leaving her difficult home life.

An Na manages to create reader sympathy for hardworking Uhmma, and a mystery is raised early on as to whether Mina may have a different father than Suna. The close relationship between the sisters is lovingly portrayed. A Mexican boy, Ysrael, is hired to work at the cleaners, and a tender relationship grows between him and Mina, though kept hidden from Uhmma. The story is brought to a strong resolution point when Mina must choose whether to follow Ysrael when he leaves for San Francisco to study music, or stay at home to nurture Suna until she is strong enough to overcome her dismal lack of acceptance by Uhmma.

The story has a number of points interesting to a writer. Alternating chapters give Mina’s first-person POV in immediate past tense, and Suna’s third-person POV in present tense. Suna’s story can move rapidly from distancing scenes to close, inner consciousness scenes. Sometimes the portrayal is ethereal, in keeping with her dreamy, sleepwalking nature. Mina’s dialogue with Uhmma is sometimes given inside quotations, and sometimes not. Possibly this, too, is done for distancing/close-up effects, but it wasn't always consistent. The writing of scenes between Mina and Ysrael can be deeply emotional, sometimes skirting a romance genre, but An Na remains overall a fine literary writer.

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