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REVENGE OF THE MOONCAKE VIXEN

A fresh, chaotic and sexy updating of the cross-cultural experience.

Wildly profane and funny riffs on folklore, chronicling the adventures of two very modern Chinese-American sisters.

Mei Ling and Moonie Wong may live in contemporary California, but their iron-willed grandmother will not let the twins forget their ancestral land, or the wrongs done to it. On reading that a pond stocked with carp is a gift from the Japanese, Grandmother plucks an enormous fish from the water. “Remember this,” she instructs. “Hirohito was a mass murderer and a rapist and this pond was built with Chinese blood.” Then she smashes the carp’s head five times against a stone wall (“This one is for Manchuria, this one for Nanking…”) and takes it home to cook. Mei Ling and Moonie are supposed to forego all the temptations of modern San Diego and be dutiful, silent and chaste. Once they are old enough to drive, they have to spend holidays delivering mediocre Chinese-American food from their suburban family restaurant, “wearing red satin hapi coats with…‘Double Happiness’ embroidered on the back.” But like the heroines of some ancient Chinese drama, the sisters are too strong-willed for subservience. Mei Ling is unabashedly promiscuous, enjoying the multicultural young men she attracts, while Moonie flirts with homosexuality and violence, wreaking havoc on anyone who stands in her way. Forty brief vignettes (“Why Men Are Dogs,” “After Enlightenment, There Is Yam Gruel,” etc.) reveal that both girls are in fact much like their grandmother. In this loosely knit series of short stories, many of which are based on Buddhist and Taoist parables as well as Chinese ghost stories, poet Chin (Rhapsody in Plain Yellow, 2003) spins out two young lives with outrageous humor. Multifaceted rather than linear, magical rather than literal, these tales tend to focus on the twins’ childhood and adolescence, often presenting contrasting views of such similar rites of passages as dating and the loss of virginity.

A fresh, chaotic and sexy updating of the cross-cultural experience.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-393-33145-5

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2009

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A LITTLE LIFE

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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FIREFLY LANE

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of...

Lifelong, conflicted friendship of two women is the premise of Hannah’s maudlin latest (Magic Hour, 2006, etc.), again set in Washington State.

Tallulah “Tully” Hart, father unknown, is the daughter of a hippie, Cloud, who makes only intermittent appearances in her life. Tully takes refuge with the family of her “best friend forever,” Kate Mularkey, who compares herself unfavorably with Tully, in regards to looks and charisma. In college, “TullyandKate” pledge the same sorority and major in communications. Tully has a life goal for them both: They will become network TV anchorwomen. Tully lands an internship at KCPO-TV in Seattle and finagles a producing job for Kate. Kate no longer wishes to follow Tully into broadcasting and is more drawn to fiction writing, but she hesitates to tell her overbearing friend. Meanwhile a love triangle blooms at KCPO: Hard-bitten, irresistibly handsome, former war correspondent Johnny is clearly smitten with Tully. Expecting rejection, Kate keeps her infatuation with Johnny secret. When Tully lands a reporting job with a Today-like show, her career shifts into hyperdrive. Johnny and Kate had started an affair once Tully moved to Manhattan, and when Kate gets pregnant with daughter Marah, they marry. Kate is content as a stay-at-home mom, but frets about being Johnny’s second choice and about her unrealized writing ambitions. Tully becomes Seattle’s answer to Oprah. She hires Johnny, which spells riches for him and Kate. But Kate’s buttons are fully depressed by pitched battles over slutwear and curfews with teenaged Marah, who idolizes her godmother Tully. In an improbable twist, Tully invites Kate and Marah to resolve their differences on her show, only to blindside Kate by accusing her, on live TV, of overprotecting Marah. The BFFs are sundered. Tully’s latest attempt to salvage Cloud fails: The incorrigible, now geriatric hippie absconds once more. Just as Kate develops a spine, she’s given some devastating news. Will the friends reconcile before it’s too late?

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of poignancy.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-312-36408-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2007

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