Best-selling author Lisa See admits she's obsessive, but in this case it's her ace in the hole: A scholar who calls herself a "research fiend," See has always been a master at weaving fascinating fact into fluid prose, beginning with her 1995 family memoir On Gold Mountain and continuing on to her most recent novels, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Peony in Love, two pure tracts of historical fiction drenched in the detail and lore of women's lives in Old China. Her switch to what might be classified as "women's novels" seems to have opened the doors of her tenacious style, as they strike an engrossing personal chord for both writer and reader.
While See's latest books focus on the traditional subjugation of Chinese women and their secret lives behind the slatted windows of their family compounds, Peony's plot is seated in truth. Inspired by an actual seventeenth-century literary criticism of the Chinese opera The Peony Pavilion, published by three women in a remarkable feat during that time of feminine repression it casts an exacting eye on social, political and folkloric mores of the time and place, all the while asking readers to suspend belief as its plot turns into a lyrical ghost story. What a lovely challenge.
See reads from Peony in Love tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Boulder Book Store, 1107 Pearl Street in Boulder, and tomorrow at the same time at the Tattered Cover LoDo, 1628 16th Street; for details, call the Boulder store at 303-447-2074 or the TC at 303-436-1070.