In 1958, eight-year-old Danny Lim has been sent to buy cigarettes for his father, when he realizes that he has lost the money. Frantic, he rushes through Vancouver's Chinatown and behind a nightclub, where he sees Miss Val, a long-time burlesque dancer. Danny is enraptured with her sequined garters and silk robe, and Val, touched by his fascination, gives him a pack of cigarettes and her silk belt. Years later, Danny spends his days working as a photographer and his nights cruising Stanley Park, far away from the home where his parents and sister live. He realizes that the key to understanding himself and his family lies in his connection to Miss Val, and he is determined to find her. Before she became the Siamese Kitten, a major player on the North American circuit, Miss Val was Valerie Nealy, a feisty girl growing up in a rundown house beside the Fraser River. But to find the stardom she thought she wanted, she had to make a series of seemingly irrevocable decisions. Set mostly during an unseasonably hot summer in Vancouver in 1982 when HIV/AIDS was spreading rapidly, The Better Mother brims with undeniable tragedy, but resounds with the power of friendship, change and truth.
Jen Sookfong Lee's soon to be released novel The Better Mother focuses on the intricacies and complexities of family dynamics. Weaving together the story of photographer Danny Lim and former burlesque dancer Miss Val (aka The Siamese Kitten), the novel touches upon such issues as AIDS, prostitution, and homosexuality.
I have been gorging myself with a lot of YA fiction lately, so when I discovered that I had won a copy of The Good Mother from Goodreads I was excited for a change from my recent reading habits. Many of my favourite books have been written by Canadian authors, so the fact that Sookfong Lee is from British Columbia and had set the novel there made me even more eager to begin reading!
The Good Mother was both thoughtful and beautiful. Sookfong Lee's writing was so smooth and seamless that I flew through the chapters! Not only did I quickly fall in love with her style of writing, but also the two main characters, especially Miss Val. I actually would have loved reading an entire novel about Miss Val alone as her personality and story were vivacious and intriguing.
While the novel itself wasn't a very happy tale, I enjoyed the way in which The Good Mother revealed the darker side to Vancouver throughout history. I also feel like the author did a good job in the way that she concluded the story. Although readers never find out what happens to some of the characters, I think I actually prefer having unanswered questions for this particular novel rather than a wrapped up ending. Overall, I would recommend The Good Mother to those with an interest in Canadian literature and the history of burlesque, and don't mind delving into more serious social issues.
Rating: 4 Stars