POTENTIAL WEAPONS by Jocelyn Lieu

POTENTIAL WEAPONS

A Novella and Stories
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KIRKUS REVIEW

Stories about young women caught between cultures, not knowing which way to turn.

It would be unfortunately easy, however apt, to categorize Lieu’s d collection as just another tiny little book by an MFA-armed writer, come to the table with years of training, a work that can’t be faulted for technique or any lack of skill but that just doesn’t have anything to say. The title story sets the tone for what follows, with its half-white, half-Chinese young woman going with her mother to see (or perhaps protest) a Ku Klux Klan rally in a small Indiana town near the woman’s college. While the writing is skillful, limning the odd surrealism that always surrounds such an event (the handful of puffy racists pathetically hemmed in by a small army of police and protestors), the piece itself is blunt and more than a little patronizing. The closing novella, “Always a Descendent,” improves on much of the rest of the collection only in that Lieu actually gives herself time to flesh out some of her characters, especially Pearl, the wonderfully perplexing great-aunt to the story’s ubiquitous half-Chinese protagonist. Like the title story, this one has at its disposal a cranky old woman who manages to upset all the carefully nuanced plot devices around her—though unfortunately that’s not enough to make for worthwhile reading. Lieu’s obvious talent is mostly wasted on these thin and repetitious tales that seem all to blend together after a time, with the exception of “Safety.” While not exactly a masterpiece, it’s nevertheless quite notable because, as a 1960s story set in the Southwest, where a woman is taught how to use a gun by her boyfriend’s friend, it at least leaves the hermetically sealed, MFA-approved world the rest of the volume is safely ensconced in.

An argument for the abolition of writing programs.

Pub Date: April 1st, 2004
ISBN: 1-55597-397-3
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: Graywolf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2004