Anthony Veasna So
So died last December before the publication of his first book, a stunning set of short stories of Cambodians who fled their ravaged country, their children, and the tangled legacy they received in their new and better lives in California’s Central Valley. Better? Not always, not often, but perhaps…tomorrow? So could speak for male or female, older or younger, straight or queer: mother and daughters in “Three Women of Chuck’s Donuts” a young badminton star idolized by younger boys working against time to keep his crown in “Superking Son Scores Again.” “Somaly Serey Serey Somaly,” concerns a young woman bearing the burden of being believed the reincarnation of a dead relative. Throughout, So makes the queer life in his vibrant mix vividly proud and alive.
You don’t have to come from a foreign country to be a stranger in your land. Cayley’s haunting short stories weave together stealthily, gentle until the cosh strikes your skull. In “The Other Kingdom,” Naomi (then Nancy) and Carol are returning, broke, from a road trip to San Francisco to see Jim Jones. Nearly back home, they stop in at a commune in the Maine woods. Nancy/Naomi stays, Carol drives back home to Toronto. Naomi is soon pregnant with Trout, who grows up in the commune, flees in her teens, becoming an immigrant in the outside world. She and others meet, make other choices; ripples spread. The narrative threads tighten, binding Trout, Naomi, and The Other Kingdom together in a final, choice. Brutally, beautifully lyrical.
Capote’s Women: A True Story of Love, Betrayal, and a Swan Song for an Era
Truman Capote (1924-1984), fey, flamboyant, openly gay, was small of stature, mighty of ego, hugely–if erratically– talented. Audrey Hepburn starred in the film of his novella, Breakfast at Tiffany’s; In Cold Bloodtransfixed millions. Craving attention, Capote collected his “swans,” a coterie of the world’s most beautiful, uber-wealthy women. His promised chef-d’oeuvre, Answered Prayers, would feature these “swans,” including Babe Paley, Pamela Hayward, Lee Radziwill. Each had confided in Capote; deep, personal confessions, unaware he immediately tattled to the others. The great roman à clef dwindled to an excerpt, “La Cote Basque ’65,” in the November 1975 Esquire. Betrayal and outrage. Finis swans. Leamer’s book is an immersive plunge into the fabulous, though limited, and often sad world of the swans, and the long spiral down of a once fêted author.
America Is Not the Heart
Castillo’s novel follows three Filipina women in California, their journeys now measured in baby steps while conforming to exigencies of language, food, and social mores in Milipas, CA. Impoverished Paz narrates the Prologue. Hero’s history (Paz’s husband Pol’s niece) flashbacks to her kidnapping by NPA rebels. Hero lives with Paz and Pol tending their seven-year-old daughter. Paz is work-worn, Hero, a teen, is physically limited, thumbs broken under torture. Hero knows family and sex, not friendship or love. Enter Rosalyn, streetwise in Bay Area culture, but guarded. Attracted, they approach by millimeters. Castillo’s flashbacks cover Island history and politics; non-translated Tagalog, Ilocano, and Pangasinan snippets deftly reduce the reader to immigrant status. Food and Money pervade; abundance or lack (young Paz devouring raw crabs scratched from the sand) explain ingrained character behavior.