A slim, satisfying set of miniature nonfiction works.

ALLEGIANCE

In this collection of short essays, novelist Gee constructs a mosaic of her life from tiny fragments.

The author is used to confounding misguided expectations about Chinese American–ness. “I was born in St. Louis, Missouri,” she writes at the beginning of “Mother Tongue.” “Does that surprise you? I also lived in Houston, Texas, and for a while, I spoke with a southern accent. A little Chinese girl with a drawl, y’all.” Gee was raised in a Christian family, though her parents later lapsed, and her mother eventually became a Buddhist; the author herself experienced a teenage flirtation with Evangelicalism. When her family moved from the United States to Hong Kong in 1983, when she was 14 years old, she keenly felt her outsider status. In these brief essays, she probes moments that highlight the complexities of her identity. The pieces explore her experience at an American boarding school, her expatriate years working in China, marriage, parenthood, and her still-complicated relationship with her mother, among other topics. There are also pieces about Hawaii, where Gee and her husband settled, including a terrifying account of a 2018 missile-attack false alarm and a gastronomically focused “Ode to the Spam Musubi.” Gee’s prose style is taut and lyrical, often bordering on prose poetry: “When I say I’m Chinese American, no one asks what part Chinese, what part American. I am a pie divided, not devoured.” The micro-essay format lends itself to the interrogation of photographs, lullabies, conversations, and text exchanges. One piece, for instance, is a series of captioned illustrations about her family that Gee made at age 10. Sometimes, she revels in the format’s inability to tell everything, as in “Tiny Love Story,” which summarizes her history with her husband in only 98 words. Such summaries highlight important details while also calling attention to everything left unsaid. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the format, some essays feel more realized than others. But overall, the reading experience is one of accumulation. Readers will walk away feeling as though they’ve been swimming in an ocean, even though they’ve only felt a few drops of rain.

A slim, satisfying set of miniature nonfiction works.

Pub Date: Oct. 27, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-948011-41-9

Page Count: 116

Publisher: Legacy Isle Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

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A blissfully vicarious, heartfelt glimpse into the life of a Manhattan burlesque dancer.

TANQUERAY

A former New York City dancer reflects on her zesty heyday in the 1970s.

Discovered on a Manhattan street in 2020 and introduced on Stanton’s Humans of New York Instagram page, Johnson, then 76, shares her dynamic history as a “fiercely independent” Black burlesque dancer who used the stage name Tanqueray and became a celebrated fixture in midtown adult theaters. “I was the only black girl making white girl money,” she boasts, telling a vibrant story about sex and struggle in a bygone era. Frank and unapologetic, Johnson vividly captures aspects of her former life as a stage seductress shimmying to blues tracks during 18-minute sets or sewing lingerie for plus-sized dancers. Though her work was far from the Broadway shows she dreamed about, it eventually became all about the nightly hustle to simply survive. Her anecdotes are humorous, heartfelt, and supremely captivating, recounted with the passion of a true survivor and the acerbic wit of a weathered, street-wise New Yorker. She shares stories of growing up in an abusive household in Albany in the 1940s, a teenage pregnancy, and prison time for robbery as nonchalantly as she recalls selling rhinestone G-strings to prostitutes to make them sparkle in the headlights of passing cars. Complemented by an array of revealing personal photographs, the narrative alternates between heartfelt nostalgia about the seedier side of Manhattan’s go-go scene and funny quips about her unconventional stage performances. Encounters with a variety of hardworking dancers, drag queens, and pimps, plus an account of the complexities of a first love with a drug-addled hustler, fill out the memoir with personality and candor. With a narrative assist from Stanton, the result is a consistently titillating and often moving story of human struggle as well as an insider glimpse into the days when Times Square was considered the Big Apple’s gloriously unpolished underbelly. The book also includes Yee’s lush watercolor illustrations.

A blissfully vicarious, heartfelt glimpse into the life of a Manhattan burlesque dancer.

Pub Date: July 12, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-27827-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2022

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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