I wrote this for the Literary Guild, which selected HOW TO BE AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE as one of its picks; I think it’s as close to an author’s statement as I’ll get. I don’t know if authors write statements; maybe just artists do.
As children, we tend to believe our parents popped into the world, fully-formed as Greek gods, as our parents. This may be particularly true if our parents grew up in a world we have little knowledge of.
My mother’s childhood world was unknown to me, growing up in a mostly white San Diego suburb in the 1980s. Japan of the 1940s and 50s existed only in her stories, in black and white photographs printed on cardboard stock. There were grim-faced girls in starched uniforms, weary adults in kimonos on temple steps in her childhood pictures. Later, my mother, as an adult, would pose pin-up girl like in dozens of photos in her custom-made dresses her new husband (my father) had commissioned for her (tailor-made clothes were affordable then). I would never have to worry about the things she had to worry about, like a nuclear bomb dropped nearby, working as a maid to support my family, marrying a foreigner to better my circumstances. She had sacrificed so I would not have to.
And so I never thought much of what my mother had to go through to get to that little tract house in San Diego. I only knew she was my mother, with her broken English, her antiquated notion of morality and manners, her attitudes toward housekeeping that were not quite like the mothers of my friends. To me, she was my mother, the eagle-eyed, aloof critic of every aspect of me from my grades to my waistline. I was an extension of her and she of me. It never mattered to me whether she had an interior life, or what dreams she had had in her youth. Nor did she communicate these things. She was not affectionate, was often impatient and weary.
It wasn’t until she became very ill, and I became a young adult, that I began to consider my mother not as an extension of me and my brothers, but as a real individual. I began to wonder what it had been like from her point-of-view: a failing heart, stuck in a back suburb without friends or a car or even the Internet or Starbucks, all luxuries that even in my poorest days in my housewife days I have taken for granted.
This novel, for me, was a tribute to her. It’s a way for me to have an imaginary dialogue with my mother, the long conversation we never had, to make tangible the love I know she had for me. Though the plot is pure fiction, it honors her experiences and personality.