At one point while reading Bonnie Chau’s All Roads Lead to Blood I literally asked myself, am I the right person to review this book? And then I thought, I can focus on it solely as an example of amazing writing. How Chau breaks the rules effortlessly, somehow making what the narrator eats for lunch and does with their spare time part of the very fabric of the world rather than distracting non-plot points. The water-smooth slipstream consciousness that occurs when the narrator plays with time and place–was that a subway car, or a Hamptons party she was in where a man was holding shrimp? Does it matter? Or the lyric quality of every piece, going from dialogue to full chorus in the same sentence. Or maybe the retelling of Little Red Riding Hood where the wolf is just waiting to devour her or the Kafka-esque sci-fi story snuck into the middle of the book.
But praising the sheer power of narrative voice alone will not do it justice and robs the stories of their true power: they are wonderfully feminist and primarily told from the point of view of an Asian narrator. That perspective alone renders them as inherently valuable. The literary merit makes it something to behold.
The opening story titled “Monstrosity” might lead some to believe it is horror. And it is, just maybe more in the way the first half of the movie Get Out is horror. “Monstrosity”, is about a second generation Chinese girl feeling pressure from her parents to date a Chinese man. She gets picked up by a boy who fits the bill in a pimped out NSX who takes her to a fancy house where they have sex and she disassociates, watching herself perform the act. It’s shocking, perverse and bizarre, and appropriately delivered in prose so numb that your fingers go cold. Who is the monster? The boy in the NSX, pretending to be a gangster, or the woman who wants, who needs to take the part of her that is Chinese away? The answer is neither. The monster is whatever pressure is making her feel like her Chinese self needs to dissociate to meet all expectations.
In “Stevie Versus the Negative Space”, an appropriately androgynous title, the narrator counts down men she’s slept with and “some guy 12” becomes “some guy whatever”. It’s like she’s exploring what it would do to a girl’s psyche to be in love with one person while casually screwing around–the way some men can and do. More remarkable, the narrator talks about relationships like a boy. When men fight, they often use generalities. It’s all feelings and slippery impressions of realities, whereas women have a memory that focuses on details. The narrator of the story though, a woman, has no idea specifically what went wrong or when it started, just those moments of knowing that, as a male reader, I identified with. Chau does such a wonderful job turning the tables that even the ways men process memories is captured and distilled with minimal commentary, leaving the reader to ponder their greater significance and revel in the clarity that follows.
I’m not sure I could ever find a more dangerous book to hand someone who doesn’t understand feminism, one that I simultaneously want to shove into everyone’s hand and say, “Read this. See the world through someone else’s eyes.”