I am part of a book club that creates a yearly reading list of interesting titles (we all suggest and then vote on 9) and usually the book is a good choice—even if it is something I might not have picked up otherwise.
I wanted to like Lyn Lia Butler’s book, Red Thread of Fate, both because it was picked by one of my book club colleagues and because on paper, the story is an interesting one.
New Yorkers, Tam and her husband, Tony, are eagerly awaiting news of the finalization of their adoption of a young boy from a Chinese orphanage. Tam is second generation from a Taiwanese American family, but Tony immigrated from China as a university student. After trying for years to have kids, Tam and Tony turned to an orphanage that both Tony and his mother volunteered at in mainland China.
Tam is in the middle of a phone conversation about the adoption with Tony when he is hit by a runaway truck and killed. However, that’s not the only shock that Tam is in for. Tony was not near NYU, where he was supposed to be, but in Queens, and he was with his cousin, Mia. Mia came to New York from China a few years after Tony did and lived with Tam and Tony until there was a massive falling out between them and as far as Tam knew, her husband had not spoken to Mia in years. Then, Tam finds out that she has been named as the guardian of Mia’s young daughter, Angela.
The story follows Tam’s struggles to be a mom to Angela, deal with the grief of losing her husband, and struggle with the decision to go through with the adoption she was supposed to do with Tony. There are, of course, family secrets that may throw a wrench in all that Tam is trying to build.
Sounds good, right? It’s not terrible. It’s just not good. There are certain books that when you read them, you can almost hear the gears grinding and creaking and you never fully engage in the world being built. You are always aware you are reading a book that someone constructed. This was one of those for me. I’d just start to get into it and there would be something clunky that would throw me out of the story. Also, in my view, the best novels explore the complexity of all the characters and don’t hesitate to show a good person acting badly. Butler throws a reveal in toward the end that felt entirely unnecessary. The story would have been better without it.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t read this. If Goodreads is any indication, a lot of folks loved this novel and that’s great. I finished it because it was a book club book (which ironically just got cancelled tonight due to weather) but I don’t think I would have otherwise. If you start (or have started) this book and want to quit, I’m giving you my blessing to do so.