A bleak tale of contemporary urban alienation--in a first US appearance for young Chinese writer Liu Heng. In a Beijing neighborhood where grimy, ill-built apartments share noisome backyard outhouses and where the local cops keep tabs on everyone, Liu Huiquan, angry and grieving for his dead adoptive mother, returns home to his empty apartment after three years in a labor camp. Abandoned in a ditch as a baby, Liu went to jail because he'd been involved in a fight. A taciturn young man, known for his loyalty and ferocity, and irrevocably affected by the circumstances of his birth, he now has few hopes for his future. His beloved adoptive mother died while he was in prison; he's shy with girls; and his best friend is serving a life sentence for murder. In the year that follows, Liu tries to make a new life for himself. He becomes a street vendor selling cheap clothes, but his loneliness and shyness draw him to a nightclub, where he falls in love with a singer, Zhao Yaqui, a commonplace woman of average beauty and talent. But the infatuated Liu follows her home each night, attends all her performances, and starts drinking. Finally, he realizes that Zhao Yaqui is quite indifferent to him, but he still can't forget her. A friend escapes from prison, and Liu, instead of reporting him to the police, hides him for a few days. The downward spiral into despair and degradation continues as he learns that a business contact of his has seduced Zhao Yaqui. Liu revisits the nightclub, where he drinks too much, and on a snowy night returning home is fatally stabbed by muggers--an ending clearly foreshadowed, and probably necessary for this relentlessly somber account of life in present-day China. Prose that tautly evokes the grim mood and setting, though Liu himself is more an idea than a reality. Still, a writer to watch.