Winter 2012


Gish Jen

Gish Jen, a Fellow of the American Academy since 2009, is the author of the novels Typical American (1991), Mona in the Promised Land (1996), The Love Wife (2004), and World and Town (2010), as well as a collection of stories, Who's Irish? (1999). Her work has also appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, The New Republic, and The New York Times.

Ours is a worried America, a jittery, teetery, beetle-browed America. Have we lost our oomph, our stomach, our moxie, our way? And is that our doom we see before us, on a big red cloud with a billion people on it? Well, maybe. Certainly it’s been a while since we looked up and beheld a clear blue sky. Now we see ozone depletion, smog, intruders–we parse what we used to drink in.

As we have for a while: John Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom, in the last of the Rabbit books, envisioned his death as descending out of the azure, “shaped vaguely like an airplane.” And by book’s end, it’s found him–the ex-basketball star, still trying to get some air, though he’s overweight now, nothing antigravity about him, and with something–hmm, might this be a metaphor?–the matter with his heart. That was Updike’s America, circa 1990–an America that could not pass up a candy bar. Now the Japanese measure their waists and apply peer pressure to the metabo, while we Americans grow ever more immeasurable. Not that everyone is a whale, of course–look at the Seals! And isn’t Michelle Obama getting us to move?

Still, we worry. As for the foil to the story that is young America, fit America, ready-for-all-comers America, it is Asia. The Vietnamese who tunneled . . .

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