Have you ever felt like you have slipped into someone else’s perverse dream? Not the nice kind, but the type where you feel as though you have been plunged into a bubbling, sticky mess of shallow characters, and the details of their sex lives? You don’t? Well, try reading Robert N. Friedland’s latest book The Second Wedding of Doctor Geneva Song to get the full experience.
The book is about a prominent, young Chinese doctor, Geneva Song, who marries Sam Victor, a Jewish lawyer 30 years her senior. She is very well off, thanks to her work and father’s shady business practices, though gives most of her money to the local Buddhist temple, where her “Spirit Sister”, Sister Deri, resides as a nun. Geneva has a blessed life, with a successful practice, and twin sons, conceived almost immediately into her and Sam’s relationship. Her life as she knows it is destroyed when her life long friend, Matthew, betrays her trust and rapes her, leaving her broken and leading to an ultimate betrayal of her values.
The novel is an easy read with the chapters broken up into bite-sized pieces. It’s set locally in Richmond and Vancouver, which was enjoyable, as I always find it fun when I recognize the settings in books. In all honesty, the book started out promising, and I fully expected to enjoy the story. Friedland sets the mood for a tale steeped in spiritualism and mysticism. Early on, he points out Sam’s borderline magical prediction of the conception of Geneva’s twin boys, Geneva’s family’s superstitious naming conventions and the existence of Geneva’s ‘Spirit Sister’, with whom she shares the same figure ‘8’ birth mark. However, any hope of an interesting fusion of mysticism and realism is soon snuffed out. Friedland attributes nothing more than lip service to this notion before unceremoniously dumping the baby with the bathwater and focusing instead on the sexual indiscretions and tedious secrets of a web of characters. The book quickly becomes dull and pointless with no driving force behind the storyline.
In addition to the weak storyline, the major problem lies in Friedland’s character development. He fails to create realistic characters, and I had no reason to care about any of the people in his book. A brief history is given for everyone, but outside of this I couldn’t identify any of their other traits that were not related to their occupation or sexual interests. Presumably in order to give the story some life, sex is deeply entrenched in the plot, and from my reading, is really the only reason for the inclusion of female characters. The three main women in Friedland’s novel, all of whom are of Chinese descent, are used as little more than sexual props. Although Friedland tries to mask this as his characters’ sexual awakening and insists in his writing that they are ‘dominant’ women, this is never actually demonstrated. The novel fulfills nothing more than a reaffirmation of Orientalist stereotypes of Asian women as submissive, sex objects. Two ridiculous examples of this (there are many more) include: 1) Geneva’s insistence that her new husband, Sam, take Sister Deri the Buddhist nun, as his concubine and 2) the scene describing Geneva’s rape. Geneva’s rape is particularly disturbing due to its violent, yet arousing description. Geneva submits to her creepy and insane friend Matthew, because she decides “…she had to let it happen to her…”, and didn’t have the strength to fight. Her rape is a lazy, and as such, inappropriate, plot tool, that serves as the catalyst for Geneva’s moral decline. However, this fails to make the story any more compelling since I had no reason to care about Geneva, who has all the personality of a blowup doll. The various plot twists simply feel like contrived set ups for erotic scenarios with ‘exotic’ women.
Overall, this book was an extreme disappointment. Avoid, as you would the plague.