“Scissors, Paper, Stone” by Martha K. Davis— Family

Davis, Martha K. “Scissors, Paper, Stone”, Red Hen, 2018.


Amos Lassen

We live in a world where the definition of “family” is constantly changing. We face the question of who get to define the term. In 1964, Catherine and Jonathan adopt a baby girl from Korea. This causes disapproval from Catherine’s family and this disapproval bring about a closer bond between her and her daughter. Spanning from 1962-1985, the novel is narrated in alternating chapters by Catherine, her adopted daughter Min, and Min’s best friend Laura. “Scissors, Paper, Stone” covers  twenty years of love, loss as well as the complex reality of female relationships. By 1985 Catherine lives a risk-free life as she wants to, Laura is dating her way through college, and Min is a massage therapist who has come out as a lesbian and is learning to accept embrace her Korean heritage. After Min and Laura take a summer road trip together, the changes in their friendship cause all three women to examine the assumptions they’ve been living by and to make choices about the parts they want to play in each other’s lives. (Looking back at this paragraph, I can understand why you might think that there is a lot of repetition but I assure you that the repetition is to place emphasis on what I think it important.)

Set in the predominantly white San Francisco suburb where the family lives, we look at important topics (aside from those already mentioned) of Min’s coming out as a lesbian, her parents’ divorce, the creation of dozens of LGBTQ institutions that developed to challenge homophobia, and the difficulties that all young people face as they deal with long-term relationships. The novel is quite intense because of Min’s sexualityand the tensions that arise between her and her mother. Our three main characters, the three women com across as both fascinating and bewildering yet we remain with them.

It has been a while since I read an intergenerational, female-centered novel that shows how close personal connections can be realized in very different and alternative. Each of these stories is told in first-person thus pulling us in and giving us access to each character. These are dynamic women with very real stories who live in distinct yet giving readers intimate access to the outward and inward experiences of three women. Catherine’s, Min’s, and Laura’s narratives are told in graceful, though not overly flowery, prose. These characters are dynamic; their spoken and inner dialogues are believable; and their worlds are simultaneously distinct from us yet worlds we can all relate to (and I am writing this as a male who related to the novel throughout).  I found to be both an entertaining and frustrating read (and no, I will not explain that since you will understand when you read the book).

Interracial adoption, sexual identity, and family relationships can each be a topic for a novel yet Martha Davis manages to get them all together and she does with style and grace.

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