GOLD BY THE INCH by Lawrence Chua

GOLD BY THE INCH

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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Imagery suggesting the-urban-jungle-is-hell-nor-are-we-out-of- it threatens to suffocate a frenetic first novel about an Asian- born architect's return from America to his native Thailand. The unnamed narrator is 23, gay, and intermittently guilty for having willfully separated from his family (with whom he had emigrated to America) and bitter about his country's transformation into a glitter palace buoyed by a booming economy and riddled with drugs, booze, and beautiful people whose bodies are for hire. Chua's fragmented narrative juxtaposes these concerns against his protagonist's awareness of his own moral deterioration, which takes the form of his infatuation with a gorgeous but somewhat distracted male prostitute, Thon (he of the ``face that inspires a thousand plane tickets, a million visa bribes''). A number of the story's particulars are indeed compelling: for example, the history of violent behavior that has threaded its way through the narrator's family, climaxing with his scapegrace father's dementia and death, and the mysterious unexplained demise of his grandmother, who may have been murdered (though this later information rather too nakedly emblemizes a distorted ethnic heritage). There's also a potentially fascinating subtheme implied by the narrator's intuition that the body expresses the spirit of its desires exactly as architecture expresses that of a city--but the concept is left in an essentially inchoate state. The novel is further burdened with barely fictionalized jeremiads condemning injustices perpetrated by colonialist exploitation (``The British Empire at the beginning of the nineteenth century was essentially a drug cartel''). The idea of an architect who can't impose order on his experiences and emotions is a promising one, and the narrator's pain and outrage seem real enough--but Chua's first fiction flies in too many directions at once to engage the reader's interest fully.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-8021-1626-4
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Grove
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1998




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