An intriguing, high-concept effort cut from the same generational cloth as Tumblr and Wattpad.

RUBIK

Tan’s debut novel is both a love letter to fandom and a sustained meditation on alienation, artificiality, and the sinister nature of capitalism.

In this novel of interconnected narratives that mimics the shifting planes of a Rubik's Cube, characters appear and reappear in stories that pastiche various genres, from anime and video games to sci-fi thrillers and fan fiction. The cycle begins with Elena Rubik, a young 20-something who is struck and killed by a car, leaving behind a ghostly electronic footprint. From there, we meet a succession of guarded misfits: a piano teacher haunted by a seven-note motif and her shy student; an isolated voice-over artist and the former model enamored with his voice (the model’s employer, Ampersand, offers a dark satire of the chain Urban Outfitters). Tan winks at her readers, sprinkling mentions of Leonardo DiCaprio and dream totems à la Inception here, aviator glasses–wearing assassins straight out of The Matrix there. It becomes clear that we’re caught—somewhere—in a potentially bottomless, self-referential piece of fan fiction, of the type characters in the novel would post on a forum called Luxury Replicants. One of the most inventive of these experiments is a narrative treatment for the faux anime series Pikkoro and the Multipurpose Octopus, in which a floating octopus cares for a precocious child. Together, they must defeat HarvestTime, a shadowy corporate entity. This, it turns out, is a reference to the novel’s capitalist bugaboo, Seed, a tech company with recurring viral marketing campaigns and obliquely sinister intentions—a throughline reminiscent of The Matrix via Infinite Jest. Fans of matryoshka-doll novels like Cloud Atlas and A Visit from the Goon Squad may be expecting a baseline narrative around which alternate worlds and realities shift, but Tan provides her readers with no such luxury. Like many of the sci-fi films Tan references, each narrative threatens to collapse, revealing its own artificiality, in a seemingly endless hall of mirrors. And while Tan’s imagination is inventive and capacious, her characters can exhibit a kind of fairy-tale flatness, too. This, however, might be part of the game. As one character remarks, “Once the machine is in motion...it doesn’t have to obey us. It’s almost like there’s…[something] that wills the objects, that determines how things will behave when they’re triggered.” Tan is skilled enough to keep readers guessing about what that next mysterious movement might be.

An intriguing, high-concept effort cut from the same generational cloth as Tumblr and Wattpad.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-944700-57-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Unnamed Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2018

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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

It's being called a novel, but it is more a hybrid: short-stories/essays/confessions about the Vietnam War—the subject that O'Brien reasonably comes back to with every book. Some of these stories/memoirs are very good in their starkness and factualness: the title piece, about what a foot soldier actually has on him (weights included) at any given time, lends a palpability that makes the emotional freight (fear, horror, guilt) correspond superbly. Maybe the most moving piece here is "On The Rainy River," about a draftee's ambivalence about going, and how he decided to go: "I would go to war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to." But so much else is so structurally coy that real effects are muted and disadvantaged: O'Brien is writing a book more about earnestness than about war, and the peekaboos of this isn't really me but of course it truly is serve no true purpose. They make this an annoyingly arty book, hiding more than not behind Hemingwayesque time-signatures and puerile repetitions about war (and memory and everything else, for that matter) being hell and heaven both. A disappointment.

Pub Date: March 28, 1990

ISBN: 0618706410

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1990

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BEYOND THE GREAT SNOW MOUNTAINS

Superb stylist L’Amour returns (End of the Drive, 1997, etc.), albeit posthumously, with ten stories never seen before in book form—and narrated in his usual hard-edged, close-cropped sentences, jutting up from under fierce blue skies. This is the first of four collections of L’Amour material expected from Bantam, edited by his daughter Angelique, featuring an eclectic mix of early historicals and adventure stories set in China, on the high seas, and in the boxing ring, all drawing from the author’s exploits as a carnival barker and from his mysterious and sundry travels. During this period, L’Amour was trying to break away from being a writer only of westerns. Also included is something of an update on Angelique’s progress with her father’s biography: i.e., a stunningly varied list of her father’s acquaintances from around the world whom she’d like to contact for her research. Meanwhile, in the title story here, a missionary’s daughter who crashes in northern Asia during the early years of the Sino-Japanese War is taken captive by a nomadic leader and kept as his wife for 15 years, until his death. When a plane lands, she must choose between taking her teenaged son back to civilization or leaving him alone with the nomads. In “By the Waters of San Tadeo,” set on the southern coast of Chile, Julie Marrat, whose father has just perished, is trapped in San Esteban, a gold field surrounded by impassable mountains, with only one inlet available for anyone’s escape. “Meeting at Falmouth,” a historical, takes place in January 1794 during a dreadful Atlantic storm: “Volleys of rain rattled along the cobblestones like a scattering of broken teeth.” In this a notorious American, unnamed until the last paragraph, helps Talleyrand flee to America. A master storyteller only whets the appetite for his next three volumes.

Pub Date: May 11, 1999

ISBN: 0-553-10963-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1999

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