Thursday, December 29, 2011

Alone Together

"In prose at once evocative and restrained, the seven stories in Jess Row's debut collection, The Train to Lo Wu (2005), gave rich, full life to Hong Kong in the years just after the British handover to the Chinese. Having spent some time in Hong Kong myself, it was my belief that Row's quietly desperate characters—natives, mainland Chinese, ex-pat artists, and the global business class—were simply attuned to the loneliness of the fast-moving, atomized megalopolis. (The Mongkok district, for example, boasts the world's highest population density, but you can spend an entire day there without speaking a word, or even catching another person's eye.) Now I see that his inimitable solitude is not local, but universal. The stories in Row's new book, Nobody Ever Gets Lost, take us from Thailand to the Punjab to New York City (and elsewhere around the Northeast), but wherever they touch down we find the same thing: psychically wounded people stunned by a world at once too vast and too small. Feeling both isolated and trapped, they seize or manufacture opportunities to connect with family, friends, or even strangers. The trouble is, self-consciously questing for a [Raymond] Carverian small, good thing is the best guarantee against ever finding one. [...]
     Nobody Ever Gets Lost is that rare work which can boast both focus and scope. It is a powerful book, raw and shrewd and brave. If the categorical assertion of the title is true, it must be because the world only ever moves in one direction: forward. Visions of purity—ethnic, religious, national, or other—are always reactionary and will always fail. Restoration of the past is impossible, and calling for it merely exposes the weak soul's fear of the future. This goes for well-to-do Korean ladies anxious about dating black guys no less than for Islamist fanatics trying to dismantle modernity or narcissistic art-brats who don't treat their girlfriends like they should."
— Justin Taylor, Book Forum

Buy Jess Row's books here...

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