Review of Lindsay Wong’s ‘The Woo Woo’

I finished Lindsay Wong’s ‘Woo Woo’ today. I didn’t like it, but it was a book club selection and I made a commitment to read it. I will explore why it didn’t work for me.
This is a brave book. To expose one’s family by sharing all of their dirty laundry is to be, if not applauded, acknowledged. The horror of mental illness is a tough subject to discuss, and Ms. Wong takes a good shot at it.
’The Woo Woo’ book reminds me of two others, Jeannette Wall’s ‘The Glass Castle’ and Cea Sunrise Person’s ‘North of Normal’. ‘The Glass Castle’ is the best of the three and highly recommended.
Written in first person, the reader is along for the ride with Lindsay. One of the great attributes of first person narrative is that we get to know the narrator. It is an intimate device that has the reader understand the thoughts and feelings of that character. The reader can share the sensations and experiences as the story progresses.
But in ‘The Woo Woo’ the reader is blocked from knowing the narrator by a Smart Aleck exterior.
People are all labeled, Pizza Head and Beautiful One. Thus labeled they become caricatures and un-relatable. The effect is of watching a farce. Funny but un-relatable. There is no emotional investment by the reader, as there doesn’t seem to be one by the writer.
There is a wall of action coming at the reader such that the pace becomes numbing. A few breaks would have served the work well.
Lack of introspection hurts the book. The author admits to being a mercenary bully. We need some decent thoughts and actions to balance these out, and to give us reason to root for, to care for, the author. But the Smart Aleck, tough exterior, (understandable for self preservation), keeps the reader from knowing the author. This emotional distance is the weakness that demotes the entire work.
Telling the story two or even three times, jumping back and forth in time, works as a device when it is a hook. But when the final scene of the jumper on the bridge comes, it is something we already know. And even then, it is told at a remove, by an author who wasn’t there, but learns about it secondhand. Incorporating the narrative of a cousin who was there would have made the scene more compelling.
The language these people use with each other is harsh, but it becomes repetitive. I began thinking, ‘I already read this’. And the foul language, while it may be accurate, detracts. Maybe a thesaurus for the words ‘Fuck’ and ‘Retard’ could have been consulted.
Reading ‘The Woo Woo’ had the effect of watching things from a bus tour, rather than being involved and caring. We read to experience the actions and emotions of the people in the stories, without the risks they take. We want to know how it feels to live with mental illness, especially when the ill person is a loved one. But that love and empathy are missing.