Monday, July 25, 2016

The Layers of Humans

I really like Rebecca Lee's 'Bobcat and Other Stories'. The seven short stories pack a punch, and she fills so many emotions in such a limited space. Nuanced and layered, the author also managed to weave history and politics into these stories that revolve around college, and references to Saskatchewan and Canada. (Reviews here, here and here.)

The very first story is titled 'Bobcat'. Full of strange malice within a Manhattan dinner party. In it, the bobcat is both metaphorical and physical for the pregnant protagonist of the story who as host, is privy to the undercurrents of the relationships at her dinner party of seven included herself and her husband John, and at the end, her own marriage crumbles.

Then there's the oddly riveting story 'Min'. It tells of American girl Sarah Johnson whose best friend is a Hong Kong guy, Min Leung. She goes with him to Hong Kong in the summer of 1989. Min's father Albert Leung, has tasked her to sift through profiles and arrange for interviews in order to find a wife for Min. Said potential wife and Min would marry the following summer. Somehow, the Vietnamese refugee crisis is mentioned along Albert Leung's job and political appointment to manage this crisis. Then there's the present day South China Sea crisis.

A few women I could write off immediately. Some seemed too passive, others had a hostile edge, and a fair number actually asked me not to choose them, because they were doing this only to please their mothers and fathers. Most of the women I genuinely liked. One woman was so lovely that my heart skipped the moment she entered the room. One woman was unbearably funny; I met her twice, and both times I was reduced to tears of laughter. A few were such extreme overachievers at such a young age that I interviewed them very carefully, with my own motives, looking for clues, secrets of personality. But usually my personality sketches, compared with the grandmother's, were vague and dull—"Seems nice, dignified, beautiful, articulate." 
The only time I was able even to approach the grandmother's divination and intuition was when I described my new friend Rapti to myself. Not Chinese, I thought, but Filipino. Possesses strong heart. Loves a just God, and children. Industrious. Lives in apricot light.

The other story I really enjoyed is 'World Party'. In this story, a World Party is a "Quaker alternative to Halloween; all the children dressed up as characters from history or books or their own imagination, while the parents laid out food before them in a great banquet, the theme being that everyone, every last person, is invited to the banquet." The protagonist Justine's seven-year-old son Teddy is part of the World Party. In the adult's parallel universe, it means such a different thing. Justine is a professor of Roman Antiquity at the university and sits on a Faculty Hearings Committee this fall of 1981 where protests run rampant, and she and her colleagues need to decide (through a vote) whether to let the economics professor Stewart Applebaum continue as the advisor of protest group Harvest especially when they are starting a hunger strike.

The one sermon I'd never heard and needed now, needed every day of Teddy's life, was regarding Abraham and Isaac. But who can bear it? Who could bear to speak of it —Abraham, one of the kindest, most soulful characters in the Bible, being asked to carry his beloved only child, Isaac, up Moriah, where the child would be sacrificed. The story is made doubly terrifying because of Isaac's innocence and trust in his father. But the Bible is clear; children will have a destiny, and they will have a mountain, and all you can do is accompany them with the terrible knowledge of all the difficulties they will encounter. They skip beside you, or in Teddy's was, they walk carefully through the wildflowers, dreaming of infinity.  
So at the end of the day, with Teddy beside me, I slipped a little yes vote into the mailbox. Everybody would just have to live with that.

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