Wonderful chaos: about "home remedies: stories" by Xuan Juliana Wang

August 7, 2019

Home remedies: stories It is a collection of debut stories by author Xuan Juliana Wang, whose prose voice focuses on the subtleties and ideas of poetry, although it is never insistently "poetic." Wang was my creative writing university student a few years ago at the USC. Among some talented colleagues, Wang stood out.

Despite his Wallace Stegner Fellow post USC grant and his Columbia MFA, Wang's style has an authenticity that derives from a workshop-free "global" perspective, a fluidity of author that reveals a study of the character fully illustrated beyond All cultural expectations. His characters are millennials and Chinese or American Chinese, but their lives, like Chekhov's characters, are ordinary lives in bold relief against the ordinary. The extraordinary appears and is absorbed magically in the familiar, like a dazzling new coat that is put on the old clothes.

Therefore, in "Echo of the Moment", a young and lonely Chinese-American woman living in Paris called Echo (one of the rare overindicators in Wang's lexicon) is given the opportunity for a new lifestyle Shining through a stolen couture closet, losing her already faint sense of self when dressing with another's identity. She becomes an "echo" of "a thin Korean girl like a splinter" who killed herself and whose couture closet, left in her apartment, begins to highlight and erase Echo. "How could someone who has a pair of marble mane boots want to die?" Echo asks.

However, death waits beneath the surface as the lost plane reported in the news, "a red-eyed flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing," which has vanished, seemingly without a trace. The world hears the "ping" of the black box below the surface, but there is no sound, no echolocation from the fallen remains, which rises from the depths. Echo quickly becomes famous in fashion photographs, wearing the clothes of the dead girl, who, with a subtle and discreet horror, fits perfectly. She meets the family of a new lover on "an ambassador's yacht" off the coast of Crete, drinking champagne, "dressed" in her sudden fame.

A blue whale emerges at once, swimming parallel to the length of the yacht. While the other passengers reach the side, trying to caress the great front of the whale, Echo remains on a high deck, looking directly at the eye looking for the whale. She realizes that the leviathan is playing with her, with all of them, in a bright fissure that only seems to be reality: "Look, said the eye, I'm just making fun of you, small and insignificant being. sad to kill him. "

Broadcasting that swift killer trial of Nature in its formidable abrupt appearance, floating right on the edge of the melodrama, is a feat of imaginative ability beyond most debuting (or experienced) writers.

But Wang handles this kind of grace and epic ceremony story after story. In "Vaulting the Sea," a young man, Taoyu, is sent to a boarding school and then trained as a diver. His diving talent corresponds to that of his roommate. Taoyu and Hai spend each hour of the day together practicing synchronized dives. They become famous, an incomparable athletic duo, while training for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing:

In the air, they were a body reflected in a mirror. A dancer in a bright show whose pirouettes begin and end as fast as lightning. Always the strongest diver should compensate the weakest, and without having to make eye contact, Taoyu knew at all times where Hai was in the air. He knew that Hai's eyelashes would touch his knees in the first revolution and then his warm breath would explode in front of him in the extension. To the people in the stands, they looked like two wings of a single bird.

This passage rises for the reader to lyrical beauty and then to erotic particularity. Notice how the perspective quickly changes from the universal to the third person and back to the universal. This rapid progression like lightning coincides with the path of immersion and reflects the sexual act itself. The two tandem bodies, in the glowing air over the water, also articulate the secret unspoken passion of one diver for the other.

It is Taoyu's hidden desire for Hai that tortures him, but it is his flying stunts in the air and water that keep him connected to this forbidden yearning. Taoyu "just knew that what he was feeling was wrong," and this knowledge dominates him. However, its proximity as bed companions in the school bedroom reproduces its diving dance and its effect on a couple:

And who can say if a child's heart was beating too fast when his hands touched? Or one person was shaking while the other slept. Or maybe in a nightmare, they hugged each other, closed their eyes, turning and fighting until the fight ceased.

Here, the tension remains contained enough to allow the immense power of erotic fire, both in frustration and satisfaction.

China's social policies are visible below the surface, where we find that same-sex love is still unpleasant and hetero family life is paramount. Wang's description of submerged passion is not fascinating because of repressive laws, but because he has captured the physicality of longing along with the physicality of agility. From both comes the power of art: in language, sculpture, painting and dance.

At the end of the story, and at the beginning of the dive, Taoyu ruins society, refuses to jump and "changes one life for another," leaving all expectations of the future "up there on the board." Representation of an irrevocable loss, observe how Hai's body "agitates underwater, looking for his own." The perfect ending becomes the perfect destruction of romance, the end of youth and the unfathomable "other life." While Hai's body writhes, looking for Taoyu's underwater, "it seemed like an elaborate goodbye."

The Chinese language itself is under lyrical scrutiny, since the figurative nature of the old ideographic character offers a different meaning and beyond other languages, including English. When writing about Chinese characters, Wang analyzes the elegant precision of the language. However, the force that guides this ingenious author composition is the ability of the imagination to think stylistically in two languages ​​at once:

In Chinese we can ask "How is it?" Because "that" can refer to anything that happens, anything you have in mind. The answer could be as simple as the "men" of a syllable, which means you are suffocated but alone. The drawn character is a heart trapped inside a door. Fear is literally the feeling of whiteness. The word for "marriage" is the character of a woman and the character of fainting. How does English compare, that awkward bark?

It can only be compared in writing this way. Not in sending clumsy barks in English ("We learned to throw the word" love ", say" LOL "and laugh without laughing") but in this profound twinning of consciences in two languages. The combination is stylistically ambitious in a way rarely seen in prose fiction.

However, there are stories here that are not up to par ("Days of being gentle", "Home remedies for life-threatening diseases") maybe. But the best is extraordinary. "For our children and for ourselves" is the story of a young provincial Chinese who is "bought" by a wealthy Chinese-American business woman to marry her daughter with mental problems and live in California with luxury for the rest of her days. in exchange for your freedom.

This young man, Xiao Gang, is chased by images of bees and an old man who took care of large bee hives. Xiao Gang is stopped by a kind of destiny, falling without being able to do anything. yuan fen. Yuan It means the fateful encounter of two people with the mutual hope of a possible love. Swamp It is the responsibility of fulfilling this promise. Wang writes: "Yuan Y swamp make love stories possible. ” The invisible ropes push Xiao Gang to this destination, but we remember the bees, which flew away, becoming wild when the old man who had attended them died. However, every fall, Xiao Gang had expected his inevitable return. Witnessing the bees gave Xiao Gang a magical sense about how his own life could change: he was the son of a long line of farmers "who didn't want to be farmers."

When Xiao Gang board the plane that will take him to the United States, he feels the attraction of his abandoned destiny: "He closed his eyes and for a moment he felt covered with the old man's bees, those old friends, as if they were trying to lift him from the seat, through the window and back to the ground where they were born, they shone on his body like fireworks.

"Future Cat", the penultimate story, plays with the idea of ​​aging through a technological toy, a "Wine Ager" that is supposed to enhance the years of a good bottle. Maggie, the "heroine" of the story, is tested in a Château Margaux destined to improve over time, but her experimentation is extended to a kind of dizzying cruelty. She "ages (s) to death" a snail, peeled off the sidewalk, then wet fruit that withers, then focuses the device on her cat, Small Cow, which survives "aging" (presumably due to her nine lives) but "Is not the same". At the end of the story, Maggie faces the inevitable experiment with technology that can cause her own death. "Stop!" Maggie exclaims, but she can't stop.

The final story of the book "The art of deviating from the course" is the culmination of Wang's game with destiny, language and ideas of surface, space and time. The narrator goes around the world, falls in love and begins to study architecture. “Architecture is not about rationality. It is about irrationality. Everything memorable is irrational. ” The story revolves around itself before breaking into "irrationality" towards its end, a lyrical dispersion of seemingly unrelated moments that become somehow political and then "philosophical":

My grandmother would have been watching me when my mother preached about the Hundred Flowers movement, while she learned to kiss by watching Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in White House. When he learned to sing singing "L & # 39; Internationale. "" Neutrality only helps the oppressor, "she would have said. "What do we really have but our moral conscience?"

Sporadic meditations on the life of a mother, a series of vertiginous options that include marriage, a move to California: all these moments collide and levitate together in the end in a futuristic "hotel", on the same "edge of the earth" as the narrator and his daughters go to space: “Behind me, through the window, all the places I am trying to leave behind. All that wonderful, horizontal, endless chaos. "

Writing like this will never stop enlightening us. Xuan Juliana Wang has offered us "home remedies" that do not work for the safe perpetuation of predictability. Instead, these stories remedy the absence of wonder in the language. His voice reaches us from the edge of a new world.


Carol Muske-Dukes is an award-winning author of nine books of poems, four novels, two essay collections, co-editor of two anthologies and professor of English and creative writing at the University of Southern California. His most recent book of poems, Blue rose from Penguin, it was a long list of finalists for the Pulitzer Prize (2018-2019). He also founded the doctoral program of the USC in Creative Literature and Writing and is a former California laureate poet.

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