The overwriting on this novel handiest infrequently me. Extra continuously I used to be reminded of George Balanchine’s remark that if his dancers didn’t infrequently fall onstage, they weren’t in reality going for it, and of John Coltrane’s emotionally overblown notes in “A Love Ideal.”
The second one part of this e-book is shaggy, shaggy, shaggy. If it’s no longer a complete breakdown, it’s one thing shut. The person of 2 minds turns into a drug broker. Due to the French Vietnamese lady he calls his aunt, who works in publishing, he has get right of entry to to left-wing French intellectuals, who’ve a robust style for his merchandise. Infecting France with Jap medicine is his personal tidy type of payback.
This can be a bookish novel. It’s the type during which a bouncer at a brothel reads Voltaire. The advent of those French intellectuals, in addition to the narrator’s personal studying, permits him to brood over the innovative concepts of Frantz Fanon, Aimé Césaire, Marx, Sartre and others. In those writings, the operating canine of capitalism are walked on lengthy highbrow leashes.
Tragedy and comedy mix awkwardly on this novel’s 2nd part. Nguyen may also be very humorous. Overhearing his “aunt” have intercourse, as an example, he’s beautiful positive she cries out “GOOAAAAALLLLLL!”
The narrator turns into all for gangland violence. Gangster movies, Morris Dickstein reminded us, are immigrant fables. Nguyen seems to take to center Robert Warshow’s remark that if the gangster movie tells us the rest, it’s that it’s bad to be on my own.
Nguyen consigns his characters to a chain of frazzled, far-fetched situations. Mayhem feeds mayhem. There are a number of prolonged torture scenes within the again part of this e-book that don’t paintings in any respect. (“You’ll’t torture me,” the narrator says, in error. “I’ve lived via a re-education camp.”)
Nguyen doesn’t discover a tone for those scenes. They’re terrible of their manner — there are rubber hoses and electrodes clamped onto nipples — however they’re onerous to take critically. There’s a ridiculous James Bond high quality to them. The torturers fritter their time away, lengthy sufficient for the tortured to be rescued. Doorways are kicked open with a bang; weapons blaze. You sense the writer seeking to stay the plot frantically spinning, relatively than elegantly extending his issues.