Review & Giveaway: What the Zhang Boys Know by Clifford Garstang
Genre: Short Stories
Publisher: Press 53
Publish Date: October 1, 2012
Format: Paperback | 218 pages
Rating: 4½ of 5
The Zhang boys, young Simon and Wesley, live with their father, Feng-qi, in the Nanking Mansion, a 12-unit condominium building in the Washington, DC area near Chinatown. Zhang Feng-qi is a widower; his American wife was recently killed in a car accident. Although none of their parents approved of their marriage, his father has moved here from China and his mother-in-law has just arrived for a visit to help with the boys. The boys believe their mother is coming back; Feng-qi is searching for a replacement wife.
The book is composed of twelve short stories, each centering around one of the residents of the building. They are a diverse group of people brought vividly to life in their pain, sorrow and longings. While each of them are flawed, they are also sympathetic, well-drawn characters. The writing was beautiful. The stories came alive. The shifting viewpoints and changes in writing style as we heard from the different individuals enhanced the reading experience.
In A Hole in the Wall we meet a young attorney as he takes a sledge hammer to a wall, ostensibly to begin construction on a balcony, but really to dull the pain of his failed marriage. There is the painter in The Face in the Window, who is haunted by a face in one of his paintings, an image from the past. In Hunger, a woman’s lifelong irresponsible behavior leaves her penniless and she must sell her possessions to survive. In The Replacement Wife we meet the young woman who Feng-qi hopes will become his new wife and mother to his children, but she hasn’t told him that she is unable to have children of her own. We also meet the sculptor, the writer, the gay couple, the building owner and the young couple renting the front unit from an owner who will expectantly return, each with their own story, each a part of the whole.
I enjoy short stories, especially those that are interconnected by characters or theme. While each of these stories could stand on their own, they are part of a novel. There are threads through each story that tie them together and weave them into one tale. Over a period of a year’s time we observe the neighbors interact with each other, some in the most unlikely ways. And through each story the Zhang boys are ever-present and know something about each resident.
I know some of my readers are not fond of short stories, but this is more like a novel because of the way the characters interact with each other. If a book has a beginning and an end, it’s a novel. The last story, The Shrine to His Ancestors, gives us resolution for Feng-qi; and while I would like to know what ultimately happened to the other residents of Nanking Mansion, that is left to our imagination.
About the Author
Clifford Garstang is the author of the prize-winning short story collection In an Uncharted Country (Press53, 2009). His work has appeared in numerous literary magazines including Bellevue Literary Journal, Blackbird, Cream City Review, Shenandoah, Tampa Review, and Virginia Quarterly Review, and has received Distinguished Mention in the Best American Series. He has received fellowships from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. He holds an MFA in Fiction from Queens University of Charlotte and is the co-founder and editor of Prime Number Magazine. He is also the author of the popular literary blog Perpetual Folly.
The publisher has generously offered a copy to give away to one of my readers. If you would like to be entered in the drawing let me know in the comments. US/Canada only, no PO Boxes. I will choose one random winner on Sunday, October 28th. Winner will be notified by email and will have 48 hours to respond with a mailing address.
[Contest has now ended. Winner: windicindi]
Source: Review copy.
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