BOOK REVIEW: LAND OF BIG NUMBERS by TE-PING CHEN


Land of Big Numbers: Stories: Chen, Te-Ping: 9780358272557: Books -  Amazon.ca

There is nothing wrong with this collection, per se, but there’s also nothing very right with it. It’s a perfectly serviceable book, with perfectly serviceable stories–sadly “serviceable” doesn’t exactly make for very memorable reading.

I think my main issue with this book is that I didn’t really see the point to any of its stories. Regardless of their subject matter–and the subject matter does vary, so there’s that–these stories all felt one-note, flat. When I read a short story, I want to feel like there’s a reason that we are following its characters at that particular time in their lives; that is to say, I want the short story to have a narrative reason to exist–why this moment? why these characters at this moment? The problem with Land of Big Numbers is that its stories don’t really address these questions. Characters are introduced, their life events narrated, their relationships highlighted, but none of this comes together to form any sort of cohesive narrative, one with tension or a climax or a sense of significance of some kind. I felt like I was just reading about a sequence of events wherein different things happened to different characters; I didn’t feel like I was reading a story.

Thank you so much to Raincoast Books for sending me a review copy of this in exchange for an honest review!


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BOOK REVIEW: CURSED BUNNY by BORA CHUNG (tr. ANTON HUR)


Cursed Bunny

These short stories are fucked up in the best possible way.

In trying to describe this collection, I find myself continually going back to the language of surgeries, operating rooms. Bora Chung’s stories are razor sharp in more ways than one. Her writing is exact, pared back, seemingly sanitized–but what it narrates is anything but. A story (“Snare”) will begin with a simple, “This is a story I once read long ago,” and then, couched in this fable-esque beginning, will proceed to give you a narrative about capitalism, greed, cannibalism, and abuse with almost surgical precision. It’s a testament to Chung’s control and skill as a writer that despite the seeming simplicity of her writing, her stories are not lukewarm but chilling. It’s the kind of writing that just works so well for a collection like this because it doesn’t try to adorn the story with what it doesn’t need; it instead lets each story stands on its own two feet, allowing it to effectively deliver whatever twisted, horrific, unsettling, or disturbing narrative it’s trying to present.

And let’s be clear, these stories are unsettling (to say the least). If we’re still going with the surgical imagery then: some stories nick and some stories slice; some dispense with just enough detail for the narrative to unnerve and then linger, and some are just full throttle, no holds barred. Regardless of how dark they are, though, Chung’s stories approach darkness in different ways, and they’re not all tragic, per se. Some stories–“Snare,” “Scars,” “Ruler of the Winds and Sands”–read like fables, like some dark fairytales lost in time. Others narrow their focus on the interpersonal, especially “The Head” and “The Embodiment,” which both foreground how women relate to their own bodily autonomy, or lack thereof. More broadly, though, I think these stories are interested in the ways that the supernatural–widely understood as encompassing things that are “not real,” whether magical beings or hungry monsters or ghosts–can interact with and distort already distorted human relationships. The supernatural in Cursed Bunny highlights the overlooked by making it literal, exaggerating it, placing it in unexpected contexts.

(Favourite stories include “The Embodiment,” “Cursed Bunny,” “Snare,” and “Scars.”)

Basically: this is an excellent and incredibly compelling short story collection. Bora Chung might be a new favourite author, and I can’t wait for more of her work to be translated into English (as it was Anton Hur’s translation of this was pitch perfect).

Thanks so much to Honford Star for sending me an e-copy of this in exchange for an honest review!


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BOOK REVIEW: COME LET US SING ANYWAY by LEONE ROSS


Come Let Us Sing Anyway by Leone Ross

There were some real standouts here, but I think as a whole, this was a 3-star collection for me.

Come Let Us Sing Anyway is a classic Leone Ross work, filled with vibrant, diverse stories with equally vibrant and diverse characters. There are shorter stories and there are longer ones, but in all of them, Ross gives you a strong sense of narrative voice, of emotion, of personal history. My favourites were definitely “Minty Minty” and “And You Know This” (which was so poignant and beautifully written). Having read Ross’s recent novel Popisho, though, I can’t help but feel like Come Let Us Sing Anyway is its less luminous sibling. That’s not to say that the latter is bad, but just that Ross’s writing is so extraordinary when it’s longform rather than in short bursts–and some of these stories are short, sometimes only a page or two long. I always prefer longer short stories to shorter ones–just because we get to spend a little more time with the characters and, as a result, understand them better–so I think I also enjoyed this collection a little bit less because of the brevity of its stories.

Qualms aside, Leone Ross is one of the best writers working today, and I will always, always recommend that you read anything that she comes out with, whether short stories or a full-length novel.

Thank you so much to International Publishers Group for sending me a review copy of this in exchange for an honest review!


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