by Jade Lee, historical (2005)
Leisure, $6.99, ISBN 0-8439-5505-8
Shi Po is our Tigress Tao guru that made an appearance in the last two books of Jade Lee's Taoist Sex Fiends On The Loose and Desperate Tigress is her story. The fact that the author calls Shi Po "desperate" should have warned me, but no, I have to read this book.
Shi Po, our Tao mistress that advocate sexing up your life as a way to attain immortality, is now feeling blue because two white women have attained the blessed state while she herself hasn't come close to doing so. So now she decides to kill herself because she can also become immortal that way. Or is it that her reputation of stupidity will become immortal? Hmm, I better check again. And oh no, who else will then teach the people of the world how to pleasure themselves into enlightenment if Shi Po kills herself? She also has many other reasons to kill herself, such as how she sheltered a monk, a crime that is punishable by death at that time, and therefore she is now ready for her canonization as the biggest martyr of all time. Meanwhile, Shi Po's husband Tan Kai Yu (in Cantonese, that name translates to "Egg, Chicken, Fish" - where on earth do Ms Lee get the names of her heroes from?) decides that it's time he ditches his white mistress and try to reconnect with his wife (she grows distant from him because... well, the reader will find out why soon enough). So he convinces her to hold off her suicide a little longer so that she can teach him the ways of the Tigress. Why, that sneaky Mr Tan, it looks like he has read quite a few erotic romances to know the bait to use when it comes to the romance heroines in such stories!
A bad general who is chasing after Shi Po's son will imprison those two in his generous way of providing those two a reason to be in close proximity and shag non-stop until the author remembers that she has a subplot waiting to be ended before she saves her story and Fed-exes it to her editor. Along the way, the author chooses to enlighten the reader about the cultures of China like bound feet and all.
I don't know, while I find this book one of the better entries into the author's series, I remain cynical and even skeptical about the story. There is this overpowering feeling I have that the author is trying very hard to overromanticize the exotic aspects of the mysterious Orient to the point that the two main characters have no personality apart from being "exotic". I don't connect in any way with the main characters and the subplot is cartoonish enough for me to find this story even more one-dimensional than ever. Ms Lee's insertion of the political situation of China in the late 1800s is admirable as an attempt to give her story some substance but for too long the story is about two cardboard characters pandering whole-heartedly to non-Chinese folks' notion of the enigmatic Orient. Like how I would feel if I read an Eric V Lustbader story set in Japan where every Japanese woman is a opium-addicted nymphomaniac throwing herself at our hirsute white hero while every Japanese man is stoic humorless samurai warlord that threatens to commit ritual suicide every two pages, I find myself perplexed by this book, either wondering whether this is really how some people really perceive the Chinese or wishing that we Chinese really are this sexually well-versed and mysterious. I especially wish for the last whenever I switch on the TV and see another tone-deaf androgynous male singer pretending to sing, I tell you. Yes, I'm aware that Jade Lee is half-Chinese, but that's okay, really: I have the same perplexment whenever I read Amy Tan's books.
Perhaps this is a case of where my familiarity with the more mundane aspects of the culture Ms Lee is writing about prevents me from truly getting into her overromanticization of the culture.
On the technical front, this book has many of the same strengths or flaws (depending on how much you like or dislike the previous two books in this series) as the previous books in the series. There is too much psychoanalyzing to the point that the story at places become mind-numbingly slow and repetitive, and the happy ending isn't convincing because the author once again tries to abruptly redeem her characters using too-tidy twists when her characters' baggages are too complicated for such methods. Mr Tan also becomes Ms Lee's soapbox for cultural acceptance at times when she has Mr Tan going on about how white people aren't soulless barbarians. A part of me can't help thinking that perhaps the Chinese at those times have the right to be very angry since the foreigners did some pretty horrible things such as using opium as a weapon to expand their power into China - the situation, therefore, isn't as black and white as Ms Lee sometimes would like things to be.
At the end of the day, I find Desperate Tigress a flat story with underdeveloped characters that fail to do justice to its promising premise.
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