The 2000 Nobel laureate’s declaration “that his fiction does not set out to tell a story” is supported by the six tales in this first translated collection
That aesthetic is thus summarized by scholar Lee, who has translated Gao’s ramshackle major novels Soul Mountain (2000) and One Man’s Bible (2002) and now these terse chamber pieces, which appeared separately during the years 1983–91 and together as part of a larger Chinese language collection. They’re generally “about” individual experiences seen in relation to larger contexts. For example, “Cramp” ironically contrasts a lone swimmer’s near-death experience to the indifference of the life that swirls energetically around him. “The Temple” opposes the jubilant happiness of newlyweds to the resigned despair of a man unable to adopt the presumably orphaned boy on whom he dotes—and in “In the Park,” a woman weeping on a nearby bench provides counterpoint to a muted meeting between two former lovers whose lives had diverged years before. The wistful title story associates memories of its narrator’s stoical impoverished grandparents with such haunting images as that of a dried-up lake filled in with “unmoving big round rocks, like a flock of dumb sheep huddled close to one another.” A narrator’s presence is even more strongly felt in “In an Instant,” which parades before a man sitting alone on a beach kaleidoscopic images of his childhood, youth, love life, and, perhaps, his own impending death—and in this volume’s best offering, “The Accident.” It records an episode in which a bicyclist hauling a small child in an attached “buggy” is hit and killed by a bus. The story becomes in its telling all the possible stories inherent in various observers’ and bystanders’ partial accounts of what they’ve seen, and think they’ve seen.
Inconsistently developed, but precisely detailed and delicately suggestive: the best work of Gao’s yet to appear in English translation.