Brilliant and strange, Chau’s arresting short stories delve into the emotional and sexual lives of second-generation Chinese-American women.
In the first of the 16 stories making up Chau’s debut collection, grand-prize winner of the Santa Fe Writers Project’s inaugural 2040 books contest, an unnamed woman hooks up with an old acquaintance—“the closest thing to a Chinese guy I had sex with, and that wasn’t saying much”—and finds, post-coitally, she has been split in two. “We will both be you,” she explains to herself. “You know you have problems with the Chinese you. I will just be the Chinese you for you.” Like many of the stories here, it’s a premise that shouldn’t work (isn’t it a little heavy-handed?), but in Chau’s hands, it’s electric: Her writing is almost alarming in its clarity, crisp and unselfconscious. Other stories are firmly rooted in reality. “I See My Eye in Your Eye” traces the paths of two sisters as they diverge in early adulthood. The older one is getting married, having a baby, building “a legitimate life.” Our narrator is not. It puzzles her, how this happened. “Somebody Else in the Room” is a hauntingly lonely story about the dissolution of a relationship in all its phases: the beginning and the middle and the end and all the phases after the end, when she is alone with his ghost. The women in Chau’s stories are sharp and self-contained and unmoored, caught in moments of transition, going or coming from someplace else. The same elements configure and reconfigure, and while the details of their lives don’t match up, they are versions of each other, all of them wishing they were someone else.
Chau is a distinctive voice, and if the stories are good, the sentences are even better.