Joan Is Okay: A Novel - book cover
  • Publisher : Random House
  • Published : 18 Jan 2022
  • Pages : 224
  • ISBN-10 : 0525654836
  • ISBN-13 : 9780525654834
  • Language : English

Joan Is Okay: A Novel

A witty, moving, piercingly insightful new novel about a marvelously complicated woman who can't be anyone but herself, from the award-winning author of Chemistry

"A deeply felt portrait . . . With gimlet-eyed observation laced with darkly biting wit, Weike Wang masterfully probes the existential uncertainty of being other in America."-Celeste Ng, author of Little Fires Everywhere

Joan is a thirtysomething ICU doctor at a busy New York City hospital. The daughter of Chinese parents who came to the United States to secure the American dream for their children, Joan is intensely devoted to her work, happily solitary, successful. She does look up sometimes and wonder where her true roots lie: at the hospital, where her white coat makes her feel needed, or with her family, who try to shape her life by their own cultural and social expectations.
Once Joan and her brother, Fang, were established in their careers, her parents moved back to China, hoping to spend the rest of their lives in their homeland. But when Joan's father suddenly dies and her mother returns to America to reconnect with her children, a series of events sends Joan spiraling out of her comfort zone just as her hospital, her city, and the world are forced to reckon with a health crisis more devastating than anyone could have imagined.
Deceptively spare yet quietly powerful, laced with sharp humor, Joan Is Okay touches on matters that feel deeply resonant: being Chinese-American right now; working in medicine at a high-stakes time; finding one's voice within a dominant culture; being a woman in a male-dominated workplace; and staying independent within a tight-knit family. But above all, it's a portrait of one remarkable woman so surprising that you can't get her out of your head.

Editorial Reviews

"Weike Wang takes us into the heart of the matter: death, dysfunction, xenophobia, misogyny, and the chronic misapprehension that passes between people of good intentions. The miracle that emerges, then, is just how funny this book is, how compassionate and visionary."-Joshua Ferris, author of A Calling for Charlie Barnes

"Incisive yet tender, written with elegant style and delicious verve. Joan isn't just okay, she's wonderful. I could listen to her smart, witty voice forever."-Sigrid Nunez, National Book Award-Winning author of The Friend

"Joan Is Okay charts the internal story of the mythic immigrant success narrative in a tragicomedy about the costs of generational betterment."-Mona Simpson, author of My Hollywood and Casebook

"This is an Asian American novel like no other, set in the heart of the pandemic, in the city I call home. Joan is my hero."-Ed Park

"Joan is a character I will be thinking about for a long time to come. I could not put this book down."-Angie Kim, author of Miracle Creek

"Scathingly witty . . . Wang is wonderful at understated sadness presented without a twinge of self-pity."-Jim Shepard, author of The Book of Aron

"I am staggered by Weike Wang's humor, heart, and brilliance. I loved Joan and I am pressing this book into your hands."-Lily King, author of Writers and Lovers

"Engrossing . . . Joan is fine; the problem is other people. I loved this book and didn't want it to end."-Marcy Dermansky, author of Very Nice

"This novel made me laugh, think, feel a bunch of things, laugh some more. And then, when I was least expecting, it snuck up and kicked me in the gut so hard I cried. Joan's voice and world view are hard to shake, and Weike Wang's writing is immensely rewarding and enjoyable. I really, really didn't want this book to end."-Charles Yu, National Book Award–winning author of Interior Chinatown

"Brilliant, subtly powerful, and different-in the best way."-Rachel Khong, author of Goodbye, Vitamin

"Unflinchingly, Joan Is Okay challenges some of our fundamental views on home, belonging, family. A smart, quietly engaging novel that is also warm and moving."-Ha Jin

"Brilliant, precise, excruciatingly funny . . . Joan wins your deepest admiration at the same time as her vulnerability breaks your heart."-Lara Vapnyar

"Joan is the perfect guide for our troubled times. I was left circling sentence after sentence."-Heidi Pitlor, author of Impersonation

"Full of sly wit, off-kilter observations, and misanthropic poetry. Readers will f...

Short Excerpt Teaser

When I think about people, I think about space, how much space a person takes up and how much use that person provides. I am just under five feet tall and just under a hundred pounds. Briefly I thought I would exceed five feet, and while that would've been fine, I also didn't need the extra height. To stay just under something gives me a sense of comfort, as when it rains and I can open an umbrella over my head.

Today someone said that I looked like a mouse. Five six and 290 pounds, he, in a backless gown with nonslip tube socks, said that my looking like a mouse made him wary. He asked how old I was. What schools had I gone to, and were they prestigious? Then where were my degrees from these prestigious schools?

My degrees are large and framed, I said. I don't carry them around.

While not a mouse, I do have prosaic features. My eyes, hooded and lashless. I have very thin eyebrows.

I told the man that he could try another hospital or come back at another time. But high chance that I would still be here and he would still think that I looked like a mouse.

I read somewhere that empathy is repeating the last three words of a sentence and nodding your head.

My twenties were spent in school, and a girl in her twenties is said to be in her prime. After that decade, all is lost. They must mean looks, because what could a female brain be worth, and how long could one last?

Being in school often felt like a race. I was told to grab time and if I didn't-­that is, reach out the window and pull time in like a messenger dove-­someone else in another car would. The road was full of cars, limousines, and Priuses, but there were a limited number of doves. With this image in mind, I can no longer ride in a vehicle with the windows down. Inevitably I will look for the dove and offer my hand out to be cut off.

My father's stroke was fatal, having followed the natural course of a stroke of that magnitude to its predictable end. Usually people die from complications and I was grateful he hadn't. Complications would've angered him, actually, to have died not from a single blow but from a total system shutdown, which was slower, more painful, and revealed just how vulnerable a person could be. Months prior, he had complained of headaches and eye pressure. I told him to get some tests done and he said that he would, which meant he wouldn't. In China, my father ran a construction company that, in the last decade, had finally seen success. He was a typical workaholic and for most of my childhood, adolescence, adulthood, not often around.

When I got the news, I was in my office at the hospital, at work. My father had tripped over a bundle of projector cords during a meeting and bounced his head off a chair. As my mother was explaining-­either the fall triggered the stroke or the stroke triggered the fall-­I asked her to put the phone next to his ear. He was already unconscious, but hearing is the last sense to go. Given the time difference on my side, only morning in Manhattan since I was twelve hours behind, my father was still en route to the meeting that by my mother's accounts was meant to be ordinary.

I asked my father how his drive was going and if he could, just for today, take a few hours off. He obviously didn't reply, but I said either way this went, I was proud of him. He had never planned to retire and remained, until the very end, doing what he loved.

Chuàng, I said into the phone, and raised my fist into the air.

After my mother hung up, I sat there for a while, not facing the computer, and that was my mistake.

Having seen my fist go up, the two other doctors in the office asked whom I'd been talking to and what was that strange sound I just made. I said my father and that the sound was closer to a word but the word meant nothing.

My colleagues didn't know I spoke Chinese, and I wanted to keep it that way to avoid any confusion. But the word did mean something, it had many different definitions, one of which was "to begin."

It was late September, and my female colleague Madeline was teasing my male colleague Reese about summer, which was his favorite season so he was sad to see it go.

Only little girls like summers, Madeline said to Reese, little girls in flower crowns and paisley dresses.

Reese was a six-­two, 190-­pound all-­American guy who went on casual dates with lots of women but flirted with only Madeline at work. I'm madly in love with you, he would say to her, in front of other colleagues like me, and Madeline would either ignore him completely or relentlessly try to get him back. Madeline was a five-­seven, 139-­pound robust German woman with a slight accent. She has had the same software engineer boyfriend for seven years,...