HANK PHILLIPI RYAN: How do you feel about fortune cookies? I am ridiculously attracted to them. I infuse them with some mystical power, cracking open each one with a bit of trepidation because--what if there’s something bad?
I save them, too. The good ones, at least. And put them on the fridge.
So when I heard about Katie Lynch’s new novel—her first, and a TOP PICK, and with an absolutely amazingly (and envy-inducing, I have to admit) premise:
On leave from college, Jane Morrow has a new job, helping out in her uncle’s fortune cookie factory…
Oh. What a great idea. And now “you will make a fascinating new friend” and “you will read something wonderful” and “new adventures are on the horizon.” And:
A new setting may change your life…
By Katie Lynch
I didn’t consciously set out to make New York City a character in Confucius Jane, but maybe I should have expected it: New York loves to be the star and has a way of getting what she wants.
I don’t have a clear hometown, and that’s all right with me.
As a child, I always enjoyed the adventure of moving to a new place and starting over at a new school. But somehow, I’ve never been able to escape New York. The city and I have had a history since the day after I was born—when, five weeks premature and in need of life-saving surgery, an ambulance ferried me from my suburban hospital into the heart of Manhattan.
New York City saved my life.
Thirty years later, I returned at the wheel of a U-Haul, ready to move in with the woman of my dreams. A seasoned New Yorker and second generation Chinese-American, Jane enjoyed showing me her favorite restaurants and neighborhoods—especially Chinatown. She took me to dim sum, where I tried tripe and chicken feet for the first (and only) time. She bought me bubble tea at a nearby bakery and neglected to warn me about the tapioca pearls at the bottom of the cup. We learned about the neighborhood’s history at the Museum of Chinese in America. We took a walking tour and held hands the whole way. I was already in love with her, but she helped me fall in love with Chinatown.
Many of our experiences there have filtered into Confucius Jane, which features a protagonist who is half Chinese-American.
As the novel took shape, I decided to populate its plot with favorite NYC spots that have since closed down. My most sentimental inclusion was Pommes Frites, a Belgian fry shack on Second Avenue near St. Mark’s. It was the type of place you gravitate toward late at night after over-indulging at a Lower East Side cocktail bar—where piping hot Belgian frites were served in an overflowing paper cone and smothered in the sauce of your choosing (parmesan peppercorn for me!). Sadly, Pommes Frites burned down in a natural gas explosion back in March of 2015. However, the owners are trying to make a comeback, and I must confess to chipping in fifty bucks via Indiegogo to help.
Confucius Jane also features another NYC mainstay that has since left
us. At one point near the end of the novel, my protagonist visits a restaurant in the West Village based on Manatus, a diner on Bleecker Street that opened in the early 1980s and established a foothold by catering to the LGBT community in the neighborhood. It served good, cheap food 24-7 until closing in 2014 due to an increase in rent costs. Manatus is sorely missed, and I wanted its legacy to live on in my book.
To use a spirited analogy (pun intended):
if Confucius Jane is a cocktail, then its base liquor is New York City’s intrinsic magic, infused with my own love story.
I would love to hear some of your stories about settings that are important to you, whether in New York or elsewhere: your favorite haunts, best memories, and most delicious excursions.
Thanks for inviting me to Jungle Red today, and happy reading!
Katie Lynch is an Assistant Professor of English and the coordinator of the MTS Honors Program at SUNY Rockland Community College. She lives with her wife, son, and dogs in New York City’s West Village.
Confucius Jane by debut author Katie Lynch is a lush and charming novel that vividly depicts New York City's Chinatown while taking the reader on a touching journey of family, community, and love.
On leave from college, Jane Morrow has a new job, helping out in her uncle’s fortune cookie factory, and a new roommate―her precocious 11-year-old cousin. Though surrounded by her loving family and their close-knit Chinatown community, Jane feels like a colossal failure. Writing fortunes is a kind of poetry, but Jane is penning words of wisdom for strangers while wondering if she will ever have the guts to move on with her life.
When Jane meets medical student Sutton St. James at her local noodle shop, sparks fly. Sutton stands at a career crossroads: surgical residency or stem cell research overseas? The first is what her father, former Surgeon General and “America's doctor,” has planned for her, but the latter might help find a cure for her mother’s debilitating MS. Neither would make either of them comfortable with their daughter's sexuality. Sutton’s only certainty is that she has no time for a relationship―yet neither she nor Jane can deny the chemistry between them.
Jane opens a whole new view of family to Sutton, a powerful counter to Sutton’s cold, sterile upbringing. Sutton inspires Jane to be more ambitious and to dream again―and challenges her to have faith in herself. But can Sutton and Jane overcome a scandalous secret that threatens to keep them apart?