Tag Archives: Xuan Juliana Wang

Paperbacks to Look Out For in May 2020

Cover image for The Electric Hotel by Dominc SmithJust as May’s new title schedules suffered a wave of cuts and postponements so, too, have its paperback publications. I’ve read only one of those that have survived the chop, some of which look more enticing than others. I’ll begin with  Dominic Smith’s The Electric Hotel  which takes its readers to Paris, New Jersey and First World War Belgium, telling the story of the rise and fall of a film studio through a French pioneer of silent movies tracked down by a film history student decades after the disappearance of the film that bankrupted him. ‘The Electric Hotel is a portrait of a man entranced by the magic of movie-making, a luminous romance and a whirlwind trip through the heady, endlessly inventive days of early cinema’ according to the publishers. The Last Painting of Sara de Vos was one of my books of 2017 so hopes are high for this one.

I’m not so sure about Season Butler’s Cygnet, in which a young girl is stranded on an island, seemingly abandoned by her parents. Swan Island is home to an ageing separatist community who have turned their back on the mainland to create their own haven and have no wish to have their carefully constructed idyll shattered by an incomer, let alone a young one. ‘Cygnet is the story of a young woman battling against the thrashing waves of loneliness and depression, and how she learns to find hope, laughter and her own voice in a world that’s crumbling around her’ according to the publishers. This one could go either way but it’s an interesting premise.

Weighing in at just over 1,000 pages, Lewis Shiner’s Outside the Gates of Eden is another title I’m not at all sure about. It begins in the ‘60s and takes us all the way to the twenty-first century as it traces the rise and fall of counterculture through Alex and Cole who meet in high school. Alex would prefer to be an artist rather than join the family business while Cole’s future is decided at a Bob Dylan conference in 1965. ‘Using the music business as a window into the history of half a century, Outside the Gates of Eden is both epic and intimate, starkly realistic and ultimately hopeful, a War and Peace for the Woodstock generation’ say the publishers somewhat ambitiously. I’m very attracted to this one but somewhat intimidated by its length.

I’ll end with a title I can happily vouch for. Xuan Juliana Wang’s Cover image for Home Remedies by Xuan Juliana Wagdebut collection, Home Remedies, came garlanded with praise from Lauren Groff, herself no slouch when it comes to crafting short stories. Wang explores the second-generation immigrant experience in twelve lengthy pieces told mostly from the perspective of young Chinese. Both poignant and sharply observed, her stories are often undercut with a dark humour and her writing is plain yet striking. Not all the stories worked for me but it’s an interesting collection which explores a culture I know far less about than I should.

That’s it for May’s much depleted paperbacks. A click on a title will take you to my review for Home Remedies or to a more detailed synopsis should you want to know more about the others, and if you’d like to catch up with May’s handful of new titles, they’re here. Fingers crossed that both we and the publishing world will be in better shape in June.

Home Remedies by Xuan Juliana Wang: Shifting cultures

Cover imageXuan Juliana Wang’s debut collection comes garlanded with praise from Lauren Groff, herself no slouch when it comes to crafting short stories. Wang explores second-generation immigrants through the lens of experience, having arrived in the States with her parents aged seven. Her collection comprises twelve lengthy stories divided into three sections: Family, Love, and Time and Space.

Home Remedies begins with ‘Mott Street in July’ which sees three children of Chinese immigrants left to fend for themselves in the one-bedroom flat they’ve long outgrown, their eyes fixed on an American future. Its dreamlike quality is mirrored in the final story ‘The Art of Straying Off Course’, a whirlwind of snapshots which takes us through an architect’s life as her career progresses until she visits her ancestral home, neatly bookending the collection. One of my favourites, ‘Vaulting the Sea’, is about two seven-year-old boys, future Olympic hopefuls, who become the closest of friends but as they grow older one wants more from the other than he’s able to give. The titular ‘Home Remedies for Non-Life-Threatening Ailments’ is made up of a list of emotional ills with advice for remedying them, from dealing with a crush on an ageing professor to avoiding a father’s grief-stricken phone calls when his ancient dog dies. In ‘Algorithmic Problem-Solving for Father-Daughter Relationships’ a divorced computer scientist muses on the failure of his logical approach to his relationship with his daughter who has never known the hunger he endured and doesn’t appreciate the fact that he knows to the dollar how much it has cost to raise her. ‘The Strawberry Years’ has a photographer struggling to make ends meet and fed up with the multitude of requests to look after Chinese visitors, one of who seems intent on taking over his apartment with her burgeoning Livestream audience’s approval.

Told mostly from the perspective of young Chinese, these are poignant, sharply observed stories often undercut with a dark humour. Some explore intergenerational relationships and the gulf which exists between the expectations and experience of parents and children. They reveal the sheer pace of change for many Chinese, from the living memory of the Cultural Revolution to expectations of a future little different from those of wealthy Americans. Wang’s characters range from the spoilt second-generation rich boy, returning from the States after an act of cruelty for which his best friend may have to pay, to the young man who agrees to a marriage he knows will make him a rich man but at a high price. Her writing is plain yet striking:

His father was a coal miner, a thin, muscular man who looked permanently charred

The blue-eyed girl was still holding on to his hand and he was about to ask “Where is the party?” but the words came to him in Chinese. Then like a voice in an interrupted dream, they flew out of him in perfect English  

I liked the girl I married very much, but not the woman she became after we immigrated to America  

Not all the stories worked for me but it’s an interesting collection which explores a culture I’m ashamed to say I know far less about than I should.