Joan is a thirtysomething ICU doctor at a busy New York City hospital. The daughter of Chinese parents who came to the United States to secure the American dream for their children, Joan is intensely devoted to her work, happily solitary, successful. But when Joan's father suddenly dies and her mother returns to America to reconnect with her children, a series of events sends Joan spiraling out of her comfort zone just as her hospital, her city, and the world are forced to reckon with a health crisis more devastating than anyone could have imagined.
In the hands of Weike Wang...Joan’s dry wit is downright hilarious, sometimes unintentionally, sometimes as a coping mechanism. Although she keeps it under wraps, Joan is angry ...Wang doesn’t mute Joan’s rage, but leaves it always bubbling under the surface ... As a child, Joan was sent to a school counselor because she 'answered questions strangely' and did not smile. In adult Joan, Wang has given us a character so unusual and unapologetically herself that you can’t help wanting to hang out with her, knowing full well that she wants nothing more than to be left alone ... Wang writes Joan’s awkwardness and the tension it spawns so well, even the reader cringes ... Death and boxes feature prominently in Joan’s story, as she grapples with mortality and navigates both the safety and constraints of self-confinement ... Through funny, weird and touching moments, Wang depicts Joan’s and her mother’s grief as messy, nonlinear and palpable ... In taut prose, Wang masterfully balances the many terrors of this pandemic alongside Joan’s intimate, interior struggles. Reading the hospital scenes set in the spring of 2020, revisiting the devastating toll this virus has taken and continues to take, this reader was not OK ... Throughout the novel, Joan’s wry humor is sometimes punctuated by moments of unexpected tenderness ... Like Joan herself, Wang’s narrative is at once laser-focused and multilayered. She raises provocative questions about motherhood, daughterhood, belonging and the many definitions of 'home.'
Welcome to the strange and ever more fascinating world of a woman who aspires to be average ... In every brisk sentence of her second novel, Weike Wang takes us deep into the mind—and the well-defended heart—of the kind of self-erasing, 800-on-the-S.A.T. high achiever we walk past on the street every hour. And her story is powered by a voice, declarative and vinegary and acute, that quickly becomes indelible ... Rarely has cross-cultural bewilderment been rendered more hilariously, or with such understated poignancy. For underneath the story of clashing perspectives is a much more human tale ... And though her embrace of an impersonal lifestyle makes her sound a little like the Japanese protagonist of the best-selling novel Convenience Store Woman, she has far-greater depths ... It’s remarkable how much Wang packs into her beguilingly quick and readable 224 pages: a story of immigrant aspiration, a medically informed reflection on the pandemic, a portrait of a woman trying to figure out the culture into which she was born by watching Seinfeld, and an examination of why someone might not want to be different.
In Joan, Wang has created a compelling character, utterly distinct, and the novel is carried by her dispassionate, clear-eyed, and often drily amusing narration. We come to understand her grief not through her own words, but through the quiet maneuvers she employs to sidestep emotion ... the pandemic—that inescapable memento mori—serves as a frame and a catalyst rather than a subject. On account of a particular concatenation of events, Joan is forced to face long-deflected emotional questions. What does family mean for one like hers, that has, in effect, been amputated? ... Such powerful insights will resonate with many, especially those with histories of displacement ... At the same time, Wang occasionally deploys an ironic, almost satirical hyperbole that is engaging and funny, but can shift the novel’s register closer to moralistic fable ... disjunction between the agonizing realism of Joan’s perspective and the cartoonish antics around her serves the novel in certain ways (enabling greater levity in an often dark account) but ultimately muffles the narrative’s consequence.