Making Progress


This novel is incredibly dense with incident, and also incredibly circumlocutious: it shows you something, then the thread breaks off, it’s suddenly ten years later. After a bit (a chapter or two, or three) you’re back to where you left off before the narrative jumped forward ten years. There are so many characters introduced and then disappearing, self has to keep re-reading to keep them straight: Peter, Kay, Jim, Ellen, Michael, Roland, Angel, Charles, Yi Gong, Leon, Deming/Daniel, Haifeng, Mrs. Haifeng, Didi, Cindy, Rocky, Vivian. It’s not that long a novel (300 or so pages) but, damn, it is complicated. And the worst part, for self at least, is that the mother in this story abandons her son not once, but twice — and the reason for the second abandonment is not explained. Self is on p. 219 and it’s a very, very slow and excruciating build to that central mystery (which takes place in Chapter One)


  • Why, if Leon is so hot (and he really is, which is a welcome detail), did Polly abandon him? (It’s been a while since self read a novel with a hot Chinese man — damn, why does Leon end up chucked over like warmed-over cereal? Polly sure is a complicated woman!)
  • What happened to Polly after she said she was going to Florida but decided not to go to Florida? Did she meet another man? Self thought at first that she was murdered, but it turns out she just ended up back in China.
  • What happened to Polly’s best friend, Didi? Where’d she disappear to? Were she and Polly just “two ships that pass in the night”?Why was Leon clenching the phone so hard when Polly called him (In Chapter One or Chapter Two?)
  • What is going to happen to Deming/Daniel? Since everything sucks, is he going to DIE?

Stay tuned.

Trying to Rush Through

SPOILER ALERT, naturally!

He was frightened by how much he was about to fuck up, by his lack of desire to stop himself, the rising anticipation at the prospect of falling down, failing harder, and going straight to tilt; he’d known from the moment he left the bar exactly where he would end up.

The Leavers, p. 159

Self will attempt to pick up the pace on reading The Leavers, which she began four days ago. It’s incredible how much the MC manages to mess up, and she’s only halfway (Lisa Ko is an endlessly inventive writer; there’s always a new disaster waiting, just around the corner, right now the novel has the feel of a massive pile-up on I-5, where more cars just keep piling on)

By p. 159, the MC has managed to alienate: his former childhood best friend; the former childhood best friend’s mother; the white couple who adopted him as an 11-year-old; his high school best friend and another high school best friend AND the other high school best friend’s boyfriend; an acquaintance who loaned him $2000; various loan sharks. That’s probably why in part III (She cheated and read goodreads reviews), the MC has fled to China to find his birth mother, who’s another ace at running away — she left him all alone in an apartment in the Bronx when her American dreams didn’t work out. But she loves her son, she truly truly loves him. Don’t let her total abandonment fool you, that was all due to her poverty, her inability to speak English, fate etc (Screech!)

When self woke up this morning, she was determined — determined — to be done with this book today. But, the best-laid plans and all that.

Stay tuned.

The White Parents Take Their Chinese Foster Kids to a Chinese Restaurant in New York

Good scene. Thanks, Lisa Ko. Deming Guo is now Daniel Wilkinson. Kay and Peter are Deming/Daniel’s foster parents. :

The dishes came out fast and were limp, reheated. Turnip cake, broccoli, shrimp dumplings. Angel stabbed holes into the side of a dumpling and even the solitary curl of steam was lackluster.

“Delicious,” Kay murmured, scooping up food for Deming’s plate. The meat tasted old. His mother would never have eaten food this bad.

“This is one of those off-the-beaten-path places,” Elaine said. “We’ve been coming here for years.”

Jim turned to Deming. “You must miss this, Daniel, having authentic Chinese food.”

“We went to the Great Wall that one time,” Peter said.

Deming recalled the tempura and pad thai he’d picked at during a visit to the buffet table at the strip mall restaurant.

The Leavers, p. 88

Macro Monday: 4 April 2022

This is self’s entry for the Macro Monday challenge. Jez Braithwaite’s Funghi and Moss post is wonderful.

She just finished attending the AWP 2022 Conference and Book Fair, the first in-person AWP conference since 2019. This year’s was held in Philadelphia. It was a bit overwhelming, but she loves the city. The Reading Terminal Market and Tattooed Mom, where Drue Heinz Prize winner Caroline Kim read, were fabulous. She even got to pay a quick visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, her first visit in decades.

At the Book Fair, in addition to discovering some wonderful new presses, she was able to add to her button collection! Feelings, indeed!

The Leavers, p. 27: Angel

This novel is finally starting to pick up the pace.

  • Daniel had known her since they were kids, but their long, insomniac phone calls had only started last spring, and for most of last year she had been his greatest consolation. Her sincerity was contagious, and he liked hearing about her friends and crushes, her plans for the summer, the classes she liked and the ones she didn’t, how living in the Midwest was calmer and quieter than Manhattan — sometimes the silence still spooked her — but God she would kill for a decent slice of pizza, a lamb shawarma in a pita.

Novel: Biggest Pet Peeves

The 10-year time jump. Especially after Chapter One ends on the BIGGEST CLIFF-Y of all time.

That is all.

Declan, I surmise, is Deming? I suppose we’ll find out what happened to him in the intervening 10 years, eventually?

I’m sour about it. Should have stuck to Deming all the way through. This book is looking like A Little Life. I was never a fan.


Self’s own painting of hyacinths


You were always free
Just thought yourself otherwise
Unthink + just be.
Listen for birdsong + trees.
If you want to reconnect.

  • For many years, Joel Tan served as Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ Director of Educational Outreach. Then he moved to Kapaau, Hawaii and feels so joyful, he’s been posting a poem a day. This one’s from Feb. 26.


Despite the frustrating lack of PDAs between Holmes and Mary Russell, this book has been serving up an array of delightful facts about supernatural phenomena.

Convo between Mary Russell and the Princess Ileana:

“But tell me about the ghosts in Bran Castle. The ones you’ve heard.”

“I don’t know that one can hear a ghost, there’s another name for that.”


“That’s it — a spirit that knocks things about.” Which, though I would not tell her, generally appears in the vicinity of an adolescent girl who feels that not enough attention is being paid her.

“I thought once I heard a voice speaking.”

Castle Shade, p. 147

That’s funny, self occasionally hears voices too! And this voice, this disembodied voice, always says, plaintively, “Mommy! Mommy!”

Once she heard it in Bangkok Airport and it almost broke her heart, it sounded so lost, so sad. She found herself turning her head, this way and that, as if looking for a lost child.

Ghosts feature a lot in self’s fiction. Mary Russell’s remark about adolescent girls made her think immediately of one story in particular: Seeing, in PANK

Ghosts are amazing narrative devices.

Apologies for this digression. Back to reading the enormously entertaining Castle Shade!

Stay tuned.

The Best Laid Plans

What is with this book? Self is still reading it!

She confesses she was so irked by a scene she read late last night — gobs of blood spilling out from a main character’s arm, of course he tried to kill himself, don’t even pretend to not understand what he tried to do — that she thought: Oh, if this much drama is happening on p. 81, do I really want to finish this book?

In the cold light of day, she realized that it’s precisely the characters’ intensity of emotion that’s been holding her in thrall since page 1. They don’t have to be rational, or even real, people — what’s important is that each emotion is truly intense, that it feels earth-shattering.

So she decides to keep on reading (besides, all the books she wants to read next will not be in this vein, for instance the WWII book, The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors!).

Then she gets to Part Two, and suddenly the characters’ youth is over. They are PAST THIRTY, how did that happen? Since this book is 700+ pages, will it end with them at 70? She hopes not. She’s rather thirsting for some youthful high jinks.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

JB’s Art Project, A LITTLE LIFE

So moved was he by the work of Lee Lozano that for his midterm project, he decided to perform an homage to her entitled Decide to Boycott White People (After Lee Lozano), in which he stopped talking to all white people.

A Little Life, p. 59

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