Eleven elegiac debut stories, winner of the 2002 Mary McCarthy Prize, about the fragility of people’s connections both to one another and to their roots.
Most of the pieces tie back in one way or another to Blue Falls, Washington, a classic American small town fallen on hard times. In “Six Ways to Jump Off A Bridge,” Parker, a retired Chinese-American chicken farmer, stands on his deck to watch police investigate a suicide on the nearby bridge built as a tourist attraction over Blue Falls and considers what constitutes the irrevocable moment that led a stranger to suicide or cost Parker his relationship with his only daughter. That daughter appears later in “Who Knew Her Best,” transformed into a porn star named Zen and facing her own irrevocable moment. In “Good Company,” Madeleine, who runs a Blue Falls diner, fights intrusive commercial development of the town while being invaded herself by cancer, and in “Desdemona’s Ruin,” Madeleine’s sister, having left Blue Falls years earlier, waits too long to return. Dexter of “Executing Dexter” is a baby made of bread with which two Blue Falls fourth-grade outsiders—a middle-class black newcomer and his white trash friend—act out their anger and neediness. Several stories deal with characters who share Leung’s Chinese heritage. “White Hand” confronts issues of ethnic allegiance directly, but the ethnicity of the separated couple in “Dog Sleep” is only another undercurrent in their marital discord. Other tales focus on gay men, with a refreshing emphasis on the emotional rather than sexual. In “Leases,” a man recommits himself to his wife in the apartment where for years, with her knowledge, he has met gay lovers. Finally, in the title story, a longtime gay couple take a cross-country road trip to discover the true parameters of their love.
With quiet sureness, first-timer Leung offers stories almost radical in their humane inclusiveness.