Thursday, July 8, 2010
Kwok herself was born in Hong Kong and immigrated to New York. She, too, worked in a sweatshop. She went to Harvard and then to Columbia, and certainly she knows the world of which she writes. Though published as an adult novel, this book is an adolescent's story told with simple, straightforward prose, within an unyielding chronological structure. This happened next is the operative framework of the story. The unadorned language sounds, consistently, like this: "I'd never had alcohol before. I took a swig. The taste was bitter and made my eyes water, but I managed not to show my distaste. After my initial swallow, I sipped only a little from the bottle. Matt drank as if he did it all the time."
A few weeks ago, after finishing a reading at Rutgers, one student noted that I was swaying the whole time I read. It was if you were dancing, she said, and I realized, again, just how important music is to me—in what I write but also, unfortunately, in what I read. I have to learn to get past that, to take pleasure in stories that are simply put, simply arranged. I felt, reading Girl, that I would very much like to know Jean Kwok, for a whole spirit pervades her pages. I felt impatient, though, about the story's voice, about the looseness of tension, about the plain-ness of effect.