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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Thursday, March 3, 2016

More powerful scenes in Lish's novel, and the unanswered questions about Zou Lei

Atticus Lish introduces a new character in part 2 of his novel, Preparation for the Next Life: John, the son of Skinner's landlady, a would-be tough guy who gets a union job as a tunnel worker in NYC and starts hanging with the wrong sort, goes from one petty crime to the next level, stealing equipment from the job, lands in prison, and his times just continue to get worse and harder as he becomes an addict and a punk, works his way up (or down) the prison system, coming to rest in a brutal Indiana prison where he hangs with a white-supremacist gang - in 20 pages or so Lish cores the complete ruination of a young life. Then he steps back into the main story, Skinner and Zou Lei, and we see Skinner, though on this side of the law, going into a similar downward spiral - terrible binge drinking, more severe PTSD from his war experiences in Iraq - very tough going here, this novel, though powerful on every page and at every moment, is not for every reader or every taste (and great though it is it might have benefited from some judicious editing - not all powerful scenes are created equal, or at least there may be too many peripheral moments in this saga). The question we're left with by the midway point is what is Zou Lei, with all her strengths of character and determination, doing with this guy, an obvious loser? True her life as an undocumented worker in a crappy Asian restaurant out in Queens, isn't rife w/ opportunities, but surely there must be some, surely she can see that Skinner can do nothing but get her further into trouble - or, maybe worse, pregnant. She must have a weakness, an addiction or a trauma history, that we don't really see clearly yet - we don't exactly know, yet, how she managed to come from China to the U.S.,, how she sneaked in, whom she paid and what price, what she left behind and why.

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