Archive for the ‘pantheon books’ Tag

Cast as Stereotypes   2 comments

Clever, timely and important are what come to mind after reading Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu.

Written as a script for a fictional television show, along with some background about the characters/actors, the novel follows Willie Wu in his quest for the prime part of Kung Fu Guy in the police show “Black and White.” He, and his Chinatown neighbors, family and friends have been relegated to roles such as Generic Asian Man, Young Asian Man, Delivery Guy, Pretty Oriental Flower and Old Asian Woman, among other stereotypes.

The setting is mostly the Golden Palace, where the show is in constant production. Willie lives in an SRO, as do the other Asian cast members, viewed as interchangeable, above the restaurant/set. His parents live one floor below him in the unit where he grew up. They, too, have had various roles throughout the years.

Yu establishes the scene, the characters involved and provides production notes. Even his acknowledgements adhere to the theme. It doesn’t take long to realize the name of the television show is another example of racism with the main characters reflecting a hierarchy based on the “Black and White” title.

The script-like approach takes some getting used, but ultimately works well. The Wu family’s past isn’t part of the TV show, but is a major element of the narrative. Although the theme is serious, Yu injects humor and romance as Willie faces the dilemma faced by many regardless of race: attaining a dream but at what sacrifice?

Interior Chinatown

Four Bookmarks

Pantheon Books, 2020

270 pages

Crime (Lit) Fix   1 comment

I don’t know what it is that makes me crave Scandinavian crime fiction, but I’m addicted. Sweden’s Hakan Nesser’s Mind’s Eye fed my habit, but I know I’ll need more soon. Nesser is a master storyteller whose pacing is neither rushed nor sluggish. The crime scenes aren’t too gruesome and the clues are well hidden. He even manages to throw humor into the mix.

The story begins with Janek Mitter awakening from a drunken stupor only to find his wife drowned in the bathtub. Mitter’s too easy a suspect, but is, nonetheless, tried and convicted before things take a turn and get exciting: Mitter, too, becomes a victim. That’s where Chief Inspector Van Veeteren, a middle-aged investigator with an attitude, comes in. His success rate at solving crimes is impressive. He had early doubts about Mitter’s guilt, but not soon enough.

I had a fairly good idea about who the actual killer was, but was not prepared for why. Van Veeteren knows who but won’t name names because, as he tells a subordinate, “… there has to be a story,” in other words a reason. Nesser’s characters develop slowly, and in an interesting manner. Many chapters begin with stream of consciousness narration and it is unclear who’s doing the thinking. This only enhances the element of suspense. Eventually, it gives way to very clear identities and perspectives.

This is the first of Nesser’s Van Veeteren mysteries. I can’t wait for my next fix, I mean the next installment. Fortunately, Nesser has several.

Mind’s Eye
Four Bookmarks
Pantheon Books, 2008
278 pages