by John Matthew Fox
story in Xujun Eberlein’s Apologies
Forthcoming is set within or haunted by the Chinese
Cultural revolution, invoking the specters of Chairman Mao and
political oppression. Many of the stories share two additional
similarities: young women whose high intelligence becomes a liability
for marriage prospects, and the forced relocation of urbanities to
villages (referred to as “inserting”).
the execution is spotty—a few stories succeed marvelously in drawing us
into the historical significance of that time by way of a personal
struggle, while others sag beneath the weight of awkward prose and
narrative that skips over the necessary progressions or lingers too
Pivot Point is one
of the stories that work. In it, a young girl whose intelligence wards
off most suitors starts a liaison with a married man named Lanbo, which
is the Chinese pronunciation for Rambo, an American icon that the
Chinese revered. As the couple struggles to have a secret relationship,
they are thwarted by hotels that require a marriage license and a
rifle-toting peasant that threatens to jail them for public affection.
In this story, as in others, there are flashes of intellectualism—a
discussion of Carl Popper and commentary on Wittgenstein—and later in
the collection characters discuss mathematical proofs. The
intellectualism, especially because it’s set in a cultural moment when
the intelligentsia was despised and the unlearned proletariat lionized,
serves as an apt counterpoint to the communistic ideology.
are some polarized characters who explore the tension between the
pragmatic rationalism of science versus the aesthetic preferences of
artists. The details are one of the joys of this collection. They are
not only lively, but historically informative. For instance, all the
“best” books, such as Lady
Chatterley’s Lover, were wrapped with brown Kraft paper,
which signaled they were forbidden books. Only occasionally—as in the
first story, Snow
Line—do the details seem overabundant, overwhelming the
narrative for the sake of delivering information about the scene and
time. The writing is also slowed by inaccurate metaphors—“when the last
words of the poem hit the floor with the sounds of brass cymbals”—and
improbable feats of hearing—“he listened to Qianqian’s heart beating
behind the curtain.” But when Eberlein tempers her narrative pace,
writes precisely, and supplies a measured amount of information about
the world she knows so well, she executes stories that are a pleasure
Matthew Fox blogs
about short stories and other literary matters at BookFox. His reviews
have appeared in Rain Taxi Review of Books, California Literary Review,
Boldtype, and The Quarterly Conversation.
Publisher: Livingston Press
Tartt Fiction Award.
Eberlein grew up in Chongqing, China, and moved to
the United States in the summer of 1988. After receiving a Ph.D. from
MIT in the spring of 1995, she began writing, publishing stories and
essays in AGNI,
StoryQuarterly, and Stand.
with Xujun Eberlein
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