Fiction Fae Myenne Ng Bone: A Novel

ISBN 13: 9780060975920

Bone: A Novel

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9780060975920: Bone: A Novel

In this profoundly moving novel, Fae Myenne Ng takes readers into the hidden heart of San Francisco's Chinatown, to a world of family secrets, hidden shames, and the lost bones of a "paper father." It is a world in which two generations of the Leong family live in an uneasy tension as they try to fathom the source of the middle daughter Ona's sorrow. Fae Myenne Ng's portraits of the everyday heroism of the Leongs--who inflict deep hurt on each other in their struggles to survive, yet sustain one another with loyalty and love--have made Bone one of the most critically acclaimed novels of recent years and immediately a classic of contemporary American life.

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About the Author:

Fae Myenne Ng was born in San Francisco and now lives in New York City. Her short stories have appeared in Harper's and other magazines have been widely anthologized.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

We were a family of three girls. By Chinese standards, that wasn't lucky. In Chinatown, everyone knew our story. Outsiders jerked their chins, looked at us, shook their heads. We heard things.

"A failed family. That Dulcie Fu. And you know which one: bald Leon. Nothing but daughters."

Leon told us not to care about what people said. "People talking. People jealous." He waved a hand in the air. "Five sons don't make one good daughter."

I'm Leila, the oldest, Mah's first, from before Leon. Ona came next and then Nina. First, Middle, and End Girl. Our order of birth marked us and came to tell more than our given names.

Here's another bone for the gossipmongers. On vacation recently, visiting Nina in New York, I got married. I didn't marry on a whim--don't worry, I didn't do a green-card number. Mason Louie was no stranger. We'd been together four, five years, and it was time.

Leon was the first person I wanted to tell, so I went looking for him in Chinatown. He's not my real father, but he's the one who's been there for me. Like he always told me, it's time that makes a family, not just blood.

Mah and Leon are still married, but after Ona jumped off the Nam, Leon moved out. It was a bad time. Too much happened on Salmon Alley. We don't talk about it. Even the sewing ladies leave it alone. Anyway, it works out better that Mah and Leon don't live in the same place. When they're not feuding about the past, Leon visits Mah, helps her with the Baby Store, so they see enough of each other.

Leon's got a room at that old-man hotel on Clay Street, the San Fran. There's a toilet and bath on each floor and the lobby's used as a common room. No kitchen. I gave Leon a hot plate but he likes to have his meals either down the block at Uncle's Cafe or over at the Universal Cafe.

Leon's got the same room he had when he was a bachelor going out to sea every forty days. Our Grandpa Leong lived his last days at the San Fran, so it's an important place for us. In this country, the San Fran is our family's oldest place, our beginning place, our new China. The way I see it, Leon's life's kind of made a circle.

In the mornings, Leon likes to sit in the lobby timing the No-55 Sacramento buses, he likes to hassle the drivers if they're not on time. They humor him, call him Big Boss. It was just after eight when I got to the San Fran, but the lobby was empty. There was a thin comb of morning light on the dusty rose-colored sofa, and the straight-back chairs were still pushed up against the wall, at their tidy night angles. When I pulled the accordion doors of the elevator back, they unfolded into a diamond pattern with a loud clang. I yanked the lever back and held it there until the number 8 floated by on the wheel contraption Leon called the odometer; then I jerked the handle forward and the elevator stopped level to the ninth floor. Leon's room was at the end of the corridor, next to the fire escape.

"Leon?" I knocked. "Leon!" I jiggled the doorknob and it turned. Leon forgets the simplest things--like locking the door: another reason it's better he doesn't live with Mah.

Without Leon, the room looked dingier. There was an old-man smell, and junk all over. Leon was a junk inventor. Very weird stuff. An electric sink. Cookie-tin clocks. Clock lamps. An intercom hooked up to a. cash register hooked up to the alarm system. When they lived together, Mah put up with it all: his screws, his odd beginnings of projects scattered all over her kitchen table, on their bedside. But the day after he shipped out on a voyage, she threw everything into the garbage. She called it his lop sop. But that didn't stop Leon, who continued inventing on the long voyages. On the ships, his bunk was his only space, so every invention was compact. Leon made a miniature of everything: fan, radio, rice cooker. And he brought them all home.

Leon was a collector, too. Stacks of takeout containers, a pile of aluminum tins. Plastic bags filled with packs of ketchup and sugar. White cans with red letters, government-issue vegetables: sliced beets, waxy green beans, squash. His nightstand was a red restaurant stool cluttered with towers of Styrofoam cups, stacks of restaurant napkins, and a cup of assorted fast-food straws. Metal hangers dangled from the closet doorknob. On the windowsill were bunches of lotus leaves and coils of dried noodles. There were several tin cans: one held balls of knotted red string, another brimmed with tangles of rubber bands. The third was ashy with incense punks. Beyond these tins, I could see Colt Tower.

When I visited Leon, he'd make me coffee, boiling water in a pan and straining the grounds like an herbal tea, and then he'd show me every project he had in progress: alarm clocks, radios, lamps, and tape recorders. He'd read to me from his newspaper piles: The Chinese Times, The China Daily News, Wah Kue, World News, Ming Bao. Leon snipped and saved the best stories for his private collection: Lost Husbands, Runaway Wives, Ungrateful Children.

Leon kept his private stash of money, what he called his Going-Back-to-China fund, in a brown bag tucked into an old blanket of Ona's. I called it his petty-cash bag. I slipped a red envelope inside.

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