Afterparties: Stories by Anthony Veasna So
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I wish I had liked these stories better. Some are compelling — especially the ones toward the end, but for the most part they’re forgettable. It’s especially sad to me as I wanted to like it. I feel terrible that he never got a chance to write, really, and that he died of crystal meth, which is a real scourge among gays that is equal, I think, to the opioid crisis. And in his acknowledgments he writes that someone looked past what “most readers saw in his work, and found its pulse, its soulful longing, the urgent questions it was trying to answer.” But I have to wonder what did most readers see in his work, if it had to be looked past? I don’t know that the Cambodian refugee (survivor) experience is any different than, say, the Jewish one, but there are peculiarities that are very interesting, such as the belief that those who were killed in the genocide can be reincarnated in their grandchildren or great grandchildren, and at great expense to those grandchildren or great grandchildren.
One of the most harrowing movies I ever saw was The Killing Fields, a 1984 film which won 3 Oscars including best supporting actor for Haing S. Ngor. He was a refugee himself and was shot to death in California. Some speculate it was because of his work to bring the Khmer Rouge to justice.
So wasn’t even born then, and a lot of these stories deal with an inheritance that he didn’t ask for. But I just didn’t feel any of the things people have said: that the stories were witty, laugh out loud funny, satirical, etc. I was mostly bored reading them. But to his credit, 8 of the stories were published in The New Yorker, n+1, Granta, The Paris Review, American Short Fiction, BOMB and ZYZZYVA. He was a graduate of Stanford University and he taught at Colgate University and other places, and that’s no small feat for someone who overdosed at 28.
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