Foreword Reviews - - Spotlight Debut Fiction - KAREN RIGBY

Ho Lin, Re­gent Press (OC­TO­BER), Hard­cover $29 (214pp), 978-1-58790-403-5 Through­out these sto­ries, emo­tional storms gather in orig­i­nal, bit­ing scenes. In China Girl, Ho Lin ex­am­ines the un­ease of liv­ing with mem­o­ries. Nine dense, imag­i­na­tive jour­neys take the form of film syn­opses, sketches, and sharp po­lit­i­cal com­men­taries. To­gether they demon­strate the ten­sion be­tween lost worlds and a volatile present.

From China to the United States, char­ac­ters re­veal pow­er­ful losses. A par­ty­goer, club dancer, and model in Bei­jing ob­serves West­ern­ers with be­muse­ment, un­til a tragedy sends her into a re­flec­tive state. A bi­cy­clist in San Fran­cisco bris­tles with the daily siege of life in a city and un­ful­filled dreams of be­ing a nov­el­ist.

An ac­tress play­ing the role of a woman at the cen­ter of a love tri­an­gle finds her sea­side ex­pe­ri­ences have come to noth­ing. In one of the briefer, stranger tales, a café is staged ev­ery day at the same time with a scene from the past that re­plays—for rea­sons un­known—for the ben­e­fit of a mys­te­ri­ous woman. Hints at a dev­as­tat­ing event turn the work into a haunt­ing act of nearlove in its heart­break­ing in­abil­ity to move the nee­dle from a sin­gu­lar mo­ment.

Through­out, emo­tional storms gather through orig­i­nal, bit­ing scenes. In “Litany, Eu­logy,” an author whose book on war crimes is praised and con­demned sifts through child­hood mem­o­ries that al­ter­nate with vis­ceral acts of ag­gres­sion. The strange na­ture of celebrity braids with history, build­ing a claus­tro­pho­bic at­mos­phere.

An­other stand­out, “Na­tional Hol­i­day,” un­folds through a gov­ern­ment lackey’s meet­ing with a dis­si­dent jour­nal­ist. A re­mote trop­i­cal set­ting plays against a wider drama that sig­nals the de­cline of one regime and rise of an­other.

Sto­ries that bor­row from the meth­ods of screen­writ­ing also stand out. Ac­tors play­ing sev­eral char­ac­ters in the same film be­gin to seem in­ter­change­able; their sto­ries cap­ture a modern ex­is­tence that never finds peace.

When Ho Lin de­clares, in one story, that “ab­sence and pres­ence are con­stantly at war,” it’s the per­fect sum­ma­tion for his char­ac­ters’ lives, plagued as they are by dark his­to­ries.

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