I wasn’t actually planning on responding to my previous criticism of books that “rewrite” fairy tales, myths, and legends with a TWIST as boring and banal too much of the time with a review of a book that did it well, but here we are.
IF you’re going to rewrite a myth, don’t simply tell the story again, but inscribe that myth onto a new set of contexts and characters to show continuity of the ideas and narrative, not simply put your own spin on them.
Like most people, I greatly and primarily associate Maxine Hong Kingston with her memoir/memoir? Woman Warrior, whose ambiguous title can be read as her character Maxine, Maxine’s mother, or the No Name woman of the opening section. In the second part of that memoir, Kingston writes a version of her mother’s story alongside the myth of Fa Mulan , who we all know and love as the best Disney princess, but was a literal (well, figural) woman warrior.
In this novel, Kingston takes the myth of Monkey, the trickster god in ancient Chinese mythology who brought Buddhism to China, transitioning the supernatural world and pre-historical world with the modern and rational world ala Saint Patrick in Ireland, and inscribes him onto the figure of Wittman Ah Sing, a rambling and shambling San Fransisco hippie in the early 1960s who is trying to write the play to end all and combine all plays about Chinese culture in the West. Wittman has simply read everything, but barely seems to exist in the world as we know it. His trickster lifestyle and complete disregard for anything not connected to his artistic project build the world of the novel in his image.
It’s weird, it’s jazz, and it’s very allusion heavy, but it’s a trip.