A lyrical if uneven debut collection depicts the lives of intelligent women—many of them Chinese-American, most in middle age—in varying stages of despair.
Five of the eight the stories center on familiar, movie-of-the-week conflicts: middle-aged husbands leave their middle-aged wives for younger women; a comically ambitious immigrant plots to marry an older man for his money; a couple lose their baby and find themselves growing apart. Louis—a winner of the Katherine Anne Porter Prize whose work has been included in Best American Short Stories—juxtaposes her clichéd subjects with unconventional narrative methods. The result is mixed: some of the pieces have an elegant, effective beauty; others are simply confusing, with plot points and characterizations vague and annoying. In "Thirty Yards," one of the more compelling tales, Chinese-American teenager Christine Chang finds herself stalked by George Yee, an older man recently arrived from Hong Kong. Angered and confused by Christine's rejection of him—and by her modern, Americanized attitude toward dating—George begins tracking her every move, even threatening her with a gun, until Christine decides to fight back. The title story—maybe the most evocative here—concerns a tryst at a romantic, rustic house. Claire and Russell, both married, meet there alone for the first time, with the intention of making love. Instead, they talk, self-consciously trading secrets and passions, asking probing questions of each other, and Claire, whose photographer husband has vanished, reveals that she was the only hearing child in a deaf family. "The Quiet at the Bottom of the Pool," set in 1971, invokes Joan Didion's noirish California essays: Rosemary Berg's husband Phil has abandoned her for his shapely secretary. Left alone in their large ranch house, Rosemary spends her nights skinny-dipping in their pool, until she's discovered and seduced by Buck, her teenaged daughter's boyfriend.
An inconsistent first effort from a clearly talented author.