The inspired author of How To Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe (2010) delivers another inventive drama about an Asian actor who dreams of becoming a star.
Like his contemporary Jesse Ball, Yu is a novelist who plays endlessly with style, genre, and nonlinear narratives. Here, the story is delivered in seven distinct “acts” depicting the arc of Willis Wu, a young actor of Taiwanese descent who dreams of graduating from the pigeonhole of “Generic Asian Man” on television to “Kung Fu Guy,” a shining star on the silver screen equal to the legendary Bruce Lee. Yu splits his storytelling between Willis’ internal monologue, during which he talks to himself about what he’s experiencing and how he feels, and the script for the TV show he appears on in a small role, Black and White, a police procedural featuring Sarah Green, an accomplished young detective, and Miles Turner, her African American partner. In spare but moving prose, Willis describes life among Asian Americans living as so-called foreigners, examines the history of bigotry against immigrants in the West for centuries, tells the sweet but sensible story of how his parents met, and relates how his part on the show evolves over time. It can be funny, as Willis explains the vagaries of the actor’s life: “When you die, it sucks. The first thing that happens is that you can’t work for forty-five days.” The book could have ended more straightforwardly but the author couldn’t resist an elegant twist, merging Willis’ increasingly complicated emotional life with the plot of the show. As it all comes to a close, the author delivers a bittersweet yet affectionate ending for his endearing, unlikely doppelgänger.
An acid indictment of Asian stereotypes and a parable for outcasts feeling invisible in this fast-moving world.