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With his brilliant first novel, Donald Duk (1991), playwright Chin accomplished what Maxine Hong Kingston and Amy Tan could not: used Chinese-American culture as a springboard into original and hilarious art. What next? Eccentric movie star Longman Kwan can frequently be seen playing Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, and Charlie Chart's Number Four Son. Now he wants to be the first Chinese actor to play Charlie himself. In an America where even the Chinese don't take this detective seriously, Longman's plea for the role is a plea for credibility as a person and as an actor. His wife's family criticizes him for choosing Hollywood over traditional Chinese opera, and his sons want little to do with him. Once again, a fascinating premise. The only trouble is that, by page 50, Longman has stepped offstage in favor of his son Ulysses, who's often seen through the eyes of various friends. Scenes of Ulysses in Chinese school or lost in the muddle of racial unrest are memorable, yet the life they describe fails to hold our interest. Chin sets up a situation whereby readers identify with Longman and then are forced to wait for 300 pages -- alleviated by only a few cameos -- for him to reappear in earnest. When the focus shifts back to a dying Longman, some dozing readers will snap to attention. Bits of the book's dense middle begin to come together, but it's too little, too late. A novel this massive requires a strong plot, which Chin, vacillating between linear narrative and a disastrous hopping about, fails to provide. One wishes he had cut out the book's bulky middle, then filled in the gap with a continued focus on the father-son struggle that first caught our attention. Second novel slump? Let's hope so.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 1566890373
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Coffee House -- dist. by Consortium