Book Reviews

Book Review: The Woo-Woo

DETAILS

Title: THE WOO-WOO
Author: Lindsay Wong
Publisher: Arsenal Pulp Press
ISBN: 9781551527369
Genre: Biography | Non-fiction

BACK COVER BLURB

Lindsay Wong grew up with a paranoid schizophrenic grandmother and a mother who was deeply afraid of the “woo-woo”–Chinese ghosts who come to visit in times of personal turmoil. From a young age, she witnessed the woo-woo’s sinister effects; at the age of six, she found herself living in the food court of her suburban mall, which her mother saw as a safe haven because they could hide there from dead people, and on a camping trip, her mother tried to light Lindsay’s foot on fire to rid her of the woo-woo.

The eccentricities take a dark turn, however, when her aunt, suffering from a psychotic breakdown, holds the city of Vancouver hostage for eight hours when she threatens to jump off a bridge. And when Lindsay herself starts to experience symptoms of the woo-woo herself, she wonders whether she will suffer the same fate as her family.

WHAT I THOUGHT

The Woo-Woo by Lindsay Wong is a darkly humorous memoir that talks about her parents, her childhood upbringing—or, lack thereof—and just what the hell the Woo-Woo are. Ghosts and demons that her parents are convinced are trying to take over their bodies and possess them at any sign of weakness. As a result, Lindsay’s upbringing is one long nightmare. Not that she’s fully aware of that, at the time, as she acts out just as her parents do. Causing teachers and school officials to wonder if, as her parents think, Lindsay is retarded and emotionally stunted.

Well, yes, with a couple of parents like Lindsay’s it’s a wonder she made it out of childhood alive, let alone sane. And while, to start with, this is a memoir you find yourself smiling at and, even at times, laughing along with the author. It’s not because it’s that kind of laugh out loud humour, rather more like the, “OMG! Shit! really?” shocked kind of uncomfortable laugher.

In the end, after struggling through to the end, I wasn’t really enlightened, so much as saddened. Because you realise here’s a woman making light of what she went through, using dark humour as a tool. But it was, for me at least, one long painful read.

Yes, it’s funny reading about the family of Mom, Pop and three young kids moving into a seemingly successful neighbourhood called the plateau—renamed ‘poteau‘ due to all the grow-ops and drugs on the street—a colourful neighbourhood full of eccentric Chinese families making their living manufacturing meth, growing weed, and importing cocaine, and hushing the rest of the neighbours with weekly gifts of lobster and chocolate. It seems like something straight out of a comedy movie—not someone’s childhood.

For me, it got a little awkward and repetitive, as each section about something seemingly funny, is punctuated with the broken family dynamic, the father’s lack of understanding and cruelty, and then, the mother’s obvious psychosis and mental illness.

With all the underlying problems of telling a story like this as a series of vignettes dotted with moments of humour, is that it relies on the reader going along. If this is your kind of ‘ride’ then great, otherwise, you might want to look elsewhere for something a little more uplifting.

14 Comments

  1. Based on the blurb i wouldn’t have thought this will be humorous… 😀
    In any case i don’t think it’s my kinda book, but i like the title, haha.

    • Alexandra says

      It’s got a great cover, and yeah the title is nifty, but the actual biography? Depressing, so much so, by the end, I never want to read another book like this ever again. I’ve read a couple of books about mental illness, but this? Well, no, it wasn’t humorous in any sense of the word.

      • Ah, i see…
        Mmm, i seem to be on a depressing book trend this month cuz everything i’ve read so far was kinda miserable. :/ Some in a good way, but still depressing.

        • Alexandra says

          Time to find something humorous and lighthearted then, Norrie. I’m looking at my wish list and thinking some fun books for the next buy cycle, less dark or crime too. I think you should treat yourself too. Something light and frothy … or chocolate. That works for me.

  2. Ah man, I can see how using humor as a tool for something so sad would be hard to read. At first I was really drawn to the story but I just finished a super sad read so I think I may have to steer clear of this one for a little while!

    We have a Jack Russell and when he freaks out and gets hyper we call them “woo woos” so now I feel kind of bad about it lol!

    • It started out as a really good read, Christina, but then, it got repetitive and the humour began to wear thin like a frayed nerve twitching. It might have been better done as an essay, or series of short essays, but as a novel, it doesn’t work.

  3. I actually did learn a lot from this book. I had no idea that mental illness was so stigmatized in Chinese culture that they refuse to acknowledge it, instead explaining it away with ghosts. I wanted so badly to get them all some help!

    • Alexandra says

      I would say mental illness is stigmatised everywhere, in all cultures, Naomi, not just the Chinese. We all like to make excuses or worse, ignore it altogether.

      As I said to Christina, in my comment above, this one could have been better presented and edited. Ah, well.

  4. Well it seemed a light and fun one but yes if it’s a true story it’s a little bit horrifying Alexandra!

    • Alexandra says

      I didn’t expect it to be LOL funny, Sophie, and I’m okay with dark humour, for the most part. But this, as you said, turned out to be more of a horror story than anything else.

  5. that sounds like a memoir I’d totally would be willing to read because that’s…. different o.o

    • You might be in the minority then, Lily, as many have read this one, or tried, and came to the same or a similar conclusion, it’s simply not well written.

  6. I love your approach to this review and how honest you are. I also agree that every culture stigmatizes mental illness. While at first it may seem entertaining stories such as these quickly become things that are simply not funny at all. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.

    • Thanks for stopping by to comment. It’s difficult at the best of times to review a biography or memoir because it’s all subjective. How do you review someone’s life? So it behooves the reviewer to remember someone else lived this and do the best they can with the content and presentation, and not diminish the actual author or their life.

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