Mira T. Lee’s debut novel, Everything Here is Beautiful, is a moving puzzle of the ways loved ones try and fail to read one another -- and how mental illness and the immigrant experience complicate those relationships. Told in alternating points of view, this is a story of two sisters who grapple with their decisions to preserve themselves and each other.
Lee’s prose is economical, sharp, and piercing. But the reason I enjoyed this smarting book is for its sixth sense in portraying the bond between two sisters who are nothing like one another, and how that disparity can transition into distance.
While there is exuberance and joy in the telling, that particular toll of doom rings from the first pages:
A summer day in New Jersey. A house with a yard. The younger one, four, likes to fold her body over the seat of her swing, observe the world from upside down. She circles her feet, twists the pair of steel ropes until they’re all the way wound. She kicks up her legs. The swing spins. She likes the sensation of dizziness.
The older one, eleven, in the kitchen, chops ginger and scallions, puts on the rice. Sets out a small plate of pickled radishes.
Lucia is carefree, enigmatic, intuitive -- or as described by her mother, “restless, wild, born on American soil.” Jie, born in China, is responsible and practical -- if only because the family's sudden emigration puts her in that position. Early on, I loved Lee's portrayal of sisterly giddiness, as in this line of Lucia speaking to Jie:
We’ll be roommates someday in an old folk’s home! We’ll be cranky and play bridge and complain to the nurses about our hemorrhoids. Ha, ha, when you’re eighty I’ll only be seventy-three!
This dialogue takes place after their mother’s death, when the sisters’ grief becomes a strange exhaustion. The scene is a testament to Lee’s ability to ring out candor and hidden depths from the most unexpected places.