Elevate Difference

Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen

Forget fairytales and fables that threaten rape and violence to women who go off the beaten path, deny their parents, or refuse to marry. Marilyn Chin's novel, Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen, doesn't lock away its female protagonists into a tower so a prince can climb up their hair and doesn't ask the women to honor and obey their parents. Instead, Chin's twin protagonists are riot grrrls of the immigrant set: they take on everything from gender and sexuality to Chinese mythology and the immigrant experience.

Duality is a central component to the book: the sisters at the heart of the stories are like night and day. It's no coincidence that the sisters – Moonie and Mei Ling – are known as "double happiness." There is the hypersexualized sister, and there is the asexual sister: each is as wild as they are rebellious. Mei Lin throws herself into fling after fling as she makes deliveries for her family’s restaurant while her sister rips her away from too-willing American men again and again. Here, the contradictions of stereotypes are thrown into the face of the reader. The Madonna/Whore dichotomy was never so smartly articulated.

Chin is not unaware of what is at stake for her protagonists. Their boldness is spoken of when Chin writes of Mei Lin's reckless promiscuity: "It could ultimately mean the death of your tribe and your people." The children of immigrants often have high expectations to fulfill. They must honor their cultures and succeed in a new world. The tongue-in-cheek statement certainly has some levity behind it: Failure is not an option for the first generation child.

Chin drives the stake through the heart of the matter when describing the twins' reaction to a fellow first generation immigrant, Donny Romero: "Now he's on the East Coast studying art at Yale. How spoiled is that? First-generation immigrant and he gets to study art." While the girls rage and rebel against this expectation, they do indeed fall into it. They become the Ivy League successes predicted by their family and by the world around them.

The collection's only misstep is that the narrators, and consequently Chin, sometimes seem too pleased with themselves. Chin knows what she's doing, and like the adventurous Mei Ling, she seemingly has so much pushing the envelope that the message of the pieces is sometimes drowned out by the volume of the sexual escapades and wink-wink criticism of assimilation. For example, "Wiping One's ass with the Sutras" would be more than fine, but when coupled again and again with sexually explicit language, the rebellion at the heart of the collection is dulled because the nail is hit one too many times. The profanity is meant to jolt the reader, but without some relief from the jolting, the risk is desensitization.

The growing pains of the Chinese immigrant experience are bursting at the seams. These twins do not reject their heritage; they simply poke holes through its hypocrisies. These sisters do not blindly accept American culture, and mock its excesses. These are the new stories of the immigrant nation. It's no accident that the restaurant owned by the twins' family is called Double Happiness. Here, making one's way means working hard, sacrificing, and forging a path to the Ivy League schools, something the twins expect as much as the mooncakes they deliver. These vixens rebel and buck and crow against expectations: this "double happiness" of living in a new land with old world expectations. The twins make their own path without rejecting the history, expectations, and hopes of their family.

Chin does not offer a happily-ever-after-type ending nor does she offer a tragedy. Instead, the twins play in murky water and shed new light on old struggles.

Written by: Lisa Bower, January 17th 2010