I had planned on doing Jia Mai’s Decoded next, but after perusing it a bit, it looks too much like Frog in its organization and scope, and there are a lot of math equations. Instead of the light thriller that I anticipated, I think it’s more of a literary piece, so that will take some time to tackle. For this time of the year when I’m playing catch up with my schedule, I need something that requires less research and review, so I’m switching it out. We’ll look at Decoded in the spring when I have more time to devote to it. This time I selected a very fast, interesting read that I can knock out quickly since I’ve read it before many years ago. We’re doing Ru Wan’s Red Wedding Dress (如宛的《紅嫁衣》), which is quite a good horror novel. It can be purchased here:
It was published in 2010 and has 293 pages.
The story is set in modern China, and it starts off with a story within a story, which is a major feature of this novel that I think makes it rather exciting. The main character is Xiaofei Yue, a single, adult woman who lives with the grandmother who raised her since her parents work overseas in America. Her grandmother, now approaching 80, tells her the story of a reluctant young bride traveling in heavy rain from her mountain village to reach her bridegroom’s house where the ceremony will take place. Told from the perspective of Sao Lu, a servant in the groom’s house, we learn that the groom, Yuankang Su, is in his fifties, and once the bride arrives and the ceremony takes place, both Yuankang and Sao Lu flee in terror from the room where the bride is waiting once they see her.
Xiaofei’s grandmother cuts the story off there since it is late and Xiaofei has to get up for work the next day, but Xiaofei presses for the end of the story. What did the groom and his servant see in the bridal chamber? Her grandmother relents and tells her the bride was so angry at being forced to marry this man that she sliced up her face with scissors so that it was now horribly mutilated and bloody. This doesn’t make the groom release her as intended, however. Xiaofei is shocked and thinks the groom is very cruel. Her grandmother explains that this situation puts the Su family under a curse after the bride dies. It loses money in business, family members meet with disaster, male relatives fall ill. They think they can hear the bride’s ghost crying in the room and see her walking late at night in her red wedding dress and her hair in disarray. The wedding dress is stolen from the bride’s grave, and a rich woman buys it and commits suicide on her wedding day. This also happens to the next woman who wears it. Xiaofei’s grandmother emphasizes the danger of encountering these sorts of old dresses. They retire for the night.
The next day, Xiaofei goes to work and takes a call from her friend Yan Mo, who invites her to her grandfather’s 80th birthday party. After work, Xiaofei stops at an antique shop to buy Yan Mo’s grandfather a birthday gift since he likes antiques. But when she looks around the store, she sees a red wedding dress. It’s expensive, but she can’t resist. She also buys a Qing antique for Yan Mo’s grandfather.
When she gets home, her grandmother isn’t there, so she takes out the wedding dress to admire it. It clearly was owned by someone wealthy, and her grandmother would balk at the expense. She tries it on and feels as if she is transported to a different world, but her grandmother appears at the door, demanding to know where she got it. Doesn’t Xiaofei remember her ghost story? It was based on a true tale. Xiaofei tries to argue that she isn’t superstitious, but her grandmother makes her promise to take it back. Having no intention of taking it back, Xiaofei hides the dress in her wardrobe.
The next day at work, Xiaofei is called in to talk with the newspaper’s chief editor about her assignment. He feels her reputation as a columnist is growing and that the novels she serializes in it are driving their sales. He asks her to start writing a longer piece and serializing it every week to draw in more readers. She’s afraid she’s not competent enough, but he encourages her. She can pick whatever she wants to write about. When she arrives home, she’s upset about how time-consuming this new assignment will be. When she goes to her room to start writing, she takes out the dress again, thinking her grandmother won’t bother her since she knows Xiaofei is working. The red is dazzling, and the peony pattern on the dress looks alive. Wearing it again, she thinks of her grandmother’s story, wondering if it would appeal to her audience. Sitting at her computer, she immediately starts to write.
She retells her grandmother’s story in far more vivid style from the perspective of the reluctant bride, Yanran. Otherwise, the story has the same characters, and the title is “The Demon-Faced Bride”. The groom, Old Su, is again over 50 and already has 6 wives. The wedding is that night, and Yanran’s family is very poor. Yanran was hoping to wait for her true love, Sheng Jun, to return, but her mother tells her to forget Sheng Jun, her family needs the Su family’s wealth. Crying, Yanran gets dressed for the wedding. Old Su gets angry when he hears she refuses to marry him, and he rejects the suggestion that he make the girl a servant instead of marrying her. He locks her in while he goes to spend the night with his other six wives, but when he goes to get her the next day, he screams in terror. Xiaofei cuts the story off there and gets ready for bed.
The next morning she goes to Yan Mo’s house for the party since she isn’t due in at work and gets in a car accident with a man on a motorcycle. He isn’t hurt, so they go their separate ways, though she thinks he’s the kind of guy she’d like for a boyfriend. Xiaofei arrives at Yan Mo’s house, meets her mother and middle school aged sister Lin Mo, who wants to read one of Xiaofei’s novels. She gives Yan Mo’s grandfather his gift and is amazed to meet a young man at the house whom she recognizes. It’s the man she collided with in the traffic accident! Yan Mo is surprised to see they know each other. His name is Gao Tian.
In the next section, this meeting is juxtaposed with Xiaofei’s novel within the novel, a scene showing Yanran thinking of her love, Sheng Jun. He was her playmate, and he pretended to be her groom when they’d play wedding as children. When he was 16, a relative took him to town to study. Two years later when he returned, he kissed her and promised to take her back to town with him when he finished his studies and marry her. With only one more year to wait, her parents forced her to marry Yuankang Su. She wonders how she can face Sheng Jun now when he returns for her. She decides to cut up her face.
Xiaofei stops writing here and goes to bed. She dreams she’s in an old-fashioned room decked out in red for a wedding. Two red candles are burning, creating a mysterious atmosphere. She wonders if she’s dreaming she is Yanran. But no, there is a woman dressed in red in the room with her. Xiaofei asks who she is, noticing the name Sheng Jun is written on the mirror in rouge. The woman starts to cut her face, but Xiaofei screams for her to stop. It is Yanran, and Xiaofei has conjured her here. Xiaofei wakes up, terrified by the dream.
After work, she goes to see Yan Mo at her job. Yan Mo is surprised to see her. Among other things, Xiaofei asks about this Gao Tian whom she met at the birthday party. Yan Mo tells her he is a policeman with no girlfriend. They decide to meet for dinner. When they finish and Xiaofei drives home, she feels something is wrong at her house. Grandmother is waiting there with a candle burning. Xiaofei scolds her to turn the lights on, that electricity isn’t so expensive that she needs to burn candles at night.
After some small talk, Xiaofei returns to her room to continue writing her novel. She puts on the antique red wedding dress for inspiration. When the wind picks up and Xiaofei notices out of the window how the other parts of the house are dark, she is spooked, gets out of the dress and goes looking for her grandmother. After a few intense moments, she finds her grandmother. The electrical wires burned out and need to be repaired, and her grandmother tells her to not bother trying to write just then. Xiaofei objects, fixes the lines, and the house is full of light again. She writes the next segment of her novel where Yanran plots with her maidservant to escape from the Su family.
The next morning is a weekend, so Xiaofei takes her writing to Lin Mo to read. She visits with Yan Mo, who has plans already set to meet Gao Tian the following day at Longgang Temple. This is the only information I can find on such a place, and I’m not sure if the novel is referring to somewhere else.
When they reach the temple, they have to go up a mountain, and Xiaofei begs off, saying she is too tired, but Gao Tian offers to help her up it so she can see the beautiful scenery. She stays behind after all at a pavilion where a beggar offers to tell her fortune. The fortune-teller mostly gets her past right, but when she asks about her love life, he says she could marry the man she’s with, but there is a close female friend who in the end will snatch him from her. When the others come back down the mountain, they talk about visiting the nunnery there.
They arrive back home after dark. Xiaofei greets her grandmother and heads up for a bath. She thinks about Gao Tian and what the fortune-teller said about the two of them. As she gets ready for bed, she has a vision of a woman hanging in her wardrobe, but it is just an illusion created by a wig and the wedding dress. She goes down to eat with her grandmother. Chapter 4 ends with Xiaofei thinking back over the time that her parents have been away and her feelings about not having them around.
Part one of a three part series.