In an odd way, she now thought, her mother was the one who had taught her to become a book doctor. Ruth had to make life better by revising it.
This quotation occurs when the adult Ruth is reflecting on some of the unhappy and embarrassing memories from her childhood. Because LuLing’s English was limited, as a child, Ruth often had to act as a translator for her mother, and she took these opportunities to soften or disguise the message LuLing wanted to convey. By “revising” what LuLing was trying to say, Ruth could control how her mother—and thus she herself—was perceived. Ruth found this translating role both frustration and comforting because she could exert some control over her mother, whom she found embarrassing and irrational. She wanted to make her mother “better” in her American world. However, the truth cannot be revised and still remain truthful, and Ruth has always suffered from her attempts to speak for others.
Now, as a ghostwriter, Ruth takes the ideas of someone else and decides how best to communicate them. She sees this ability as a skill she learned from living with LuLing. Again, she takes someone’s thoughts and revises them to be more palatable and useful to others. However, what Ruth does not yet acknowledge is that this focus on conveying others’ messages leaves her without the ability to speak her own ideas and desires. Ruth secretly dreams of writing her own book but lacks the courage to do so, and her focus on her mother often distracts her from thinking about her own happiness and identity. Ruth sees herself as just revising the stories of others rather than having the agency to write her own. This quotation also alludes to the family secret that will eventually set Ruth free to claim her agency and identity. When she whimsically refers to herself as a “book doctor,” she does not yet know that she comes from a lineage of healers through her grandmother, the bonesetter’s daughter.