Ho Lin’s short story anthology was an interesting read. Each tale aimed to shed light on random moments from varying points of view. He pulls in the reader with unexpected juxtapositions of settings and tone. The collection exudes emotion as if the stories were collective memories meshed together. He rarely delves deep into any specific narratives. The stories bounced between Asia and American even within the same story. We meet an American ex-Pat in China, then a host of characters in San Francisco, while another traveling on a subway in Hong Kong. These characters muse on how they’ve ended up in their respective predicaments, usually with fondness or complacency.
The titular story focuses on a young Chinese woman, May, a dancer meandering through life. While dancing at a club, she meets men from all walks of life. Sometimes she befriends them for a few days while other days meeting up with musician friends from university. All of them drifting though the city seeking, but rarely finding what they desire. The story collects her sporadic observations with glimpses into her life over an undetermined period. Her thoughts on the David Bowie song were injected into the middle of the story before she sleeps with a German man she met.
“She hates the David Bowie song. Nothing about the melody or words is particularly galling to her, but that video! A woman dressed more like a geisha than anything remotely Chinese! That mousy face, that underfed skinny body! How could anyone think of that as a beautiful Chinese girl?”
A nice surprise in this anthology was the inclusion of a film treatment of sorts called “Floating World“. The potential film would follow two couples, played by the same actor and actress. One couple would live in San Francisco, while the other in Hong Kong. Similar characteristics, but metaphorical mirror characters to display the path not taken by the other. A Japanese woman named Miho brings the quartet into near collision without the dopplegangers ever fully realizing it. They have near miss encounters, but blink and then the other ‘you’ is gone. The story premise is quite cinematic but more a melancholy musing on what could have been. Almost all the stories follow lonely people. Perhaps, Miho most of all who “wishes she could love them in return, but love disappeared from her long ago. Maybe it left with the sickness of her youth.” The character interaction reminded me of the recent indie film by Alex Ross Perry, Golden Exits A group of Brooklynite couples are connected by an Australian woman (Emily Browning) who visits the city for an internship. The film is all about what is unsaid in relationships similar to this treatment.
More loneliness but with a lighter tone in the story entitled “Ghost Wife”. The ex-pat journalist romances a woman named Mercedes he meets while writing a local news story. They flirt, but nothing comes to fruition. “Once she asked him point-blank: If you hate this country, why do you stay here? He was tempted to bring up F. Scott Fitzgerald line about two opposing ideas and being able to function, but decided it against it…”
My favorite was “Trio” written in similar fashion as the treatment with introductory setup chapters who how the sound editing, cinematography style would be before going into the narrative. It covers three tales in same beach town where two unnamed men and an unnamed woman interact at the same noodle bar, same club but in unique ways in each tale. A twist on the same town done thrice.
This idea of contradiction, myth vs. historical facts, memory vs. reality can be found in all the stories.
I would recommend this anthology to fans of short stories that are light on narrative and heavy on emotional, surreal observations in the vein of Joan Didion.
*Full disclosure – As a Cannonball read participant, I was offered a free copy of this book from the publisher.