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February 11, 2022

George Ernsberger
Posted 2/11/22

Thank You, Mr. Nixon: Stories by Gish Jen (Knopf).

Gish Jen is American, born to Chinese immigrants and grew up in America, and goodness knows educated here – she has a doctorate in English, …

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February 11, 2022

Posted

Thank You, Mr. Nixon: Stories by Gish Jen (Knopf).

Gish Jen is American, born to Chinese immigrants and grew up in America, and goodness knows educated here – she has a doctorate in English, from Harvard.

So I can’t be sure it isn’t just some old ethnic stereotyping in my brain that experiences some, by no means all, of her brilliant stories as… alien, in the diction or perception of the teller, and in a way that pretty much has to be Chinese.

(Her novels, too, vary – purposefully, it’s clear – in rhythm, tone, that sort of thing.) When I was young, the most identifiable group of American writers, who were that generation’s stars, had a common ethnic identity: then, it was European-descended Jews, most of them second-(first native-born) generation Americans: Mailer, Malamud, Roth, Heller.

Just two years ago, this column covered novels by both Jen and Charles Yu in the same week (Yu’s Interior Chinatown later won that year’s National Book Award). So, maybe a first native-born generation inherits some special sort of energy? A nervous system that’s preternaturally alert?

Nobody who read those Jews needed to be assured that they were Americans, and the same is true, now, of these Asians (Jen and Yu and Celeste Ng and more have been celebrated in this column as elsewhere). So, who’s next? What’s a Somali name that we might watch for, now?

The Accomplice by Lisa Lutz (Ballantine).

A crime novel in structure, by a writer we can tell is smart about character. This book is, in fact, a novel of character as much as it’s a crime novel (not more than, notice). It centers on a life friendship between two people who are both rather oddballs, and together form a deep and lasting bond. Which feels to us a natural, comfortable thing. Until it isn’t.

Cleopatra and Frankenstein by Coco Mellors (Bloomsbury).

Really beautiful New York City novel (a weakness of mine, but no kidding, the real deal, here), centering, as New York novels are inclined to do, on a newcomer to the city – but then, also on a native New Yorker, and ultimately on their marriage and the mix of friends of the two as they come to be seen as an ever-shifting constellation . . . and gets that and a lot else right. (Their names are Cleo and Frank, so…)

Mermaid Confidential by Tim Dorsey (Morrow).

A Serge Storms novel, of course, book 25 in this great comic crime novel series. Serge and Coleman decide to settle down to condo living. I suppose I needn’t assure you that settling is not the thing to expect, here.

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