Book Reviews and Highlights

Afterparties

Anthony Veasna So

  • Asian American
  • Fiction
  • Literary
  • Short Stories (single author)
  • The first night the man orders an apple fritter, it is three in the morning, the streetlamp is broken, and California Delta mist obscures the waterfront’s run-down buildings, except for Chuck’s Donuts, with its cool fluorescent glow.
  • Three Women of Chuck’s Donuts | Page: 1
  • #first-sentence
  • “Again!” She approaches the windows and tries to look outside but sees mostly her own reflection—stubby limbs sprouting from a grease-stained apron, a plump face topped by a cheap hairnet.
  • Three Women of Chuck’s Donuts | Page: 2
  • She contemplates her hands, the skin discolored and rough, at once wrinkled and sinewy. They are the hands of her mother, who fried homemade cha quai in the markets of Battambang until she grew old and tired and the markets disappeared and her hands went from twisting dough to picking rice in order to serve the Communist ideals of a genocidal regime.
  • Three Women of Chuck’s Donuts | Page: 3
  • Imagine Chuck’s Donuts surrounded by bustling bars and restaurants and a new IMAX movie theater, all filled with people still in denial about their impossible mortgages.
  • Three Women of Chuck’s Donuts | Page: 4
  • Being Khmer, as far as Tevy can tell, can’t be reduced to the brown skin, black hair, and prominent cheekbones that she shares with her mother and sister.
  • Three Women of Chuck’s Donuts | Page: 9
  • Tevy carries little guilt about her detachment from her culture. At times, though, she feels overwhelmed, as if her thoughts are coiling through her brain, as if her head will explode.
  • Three Women of Chuck’s Donuts | Page: 10
  • Tevy wonders if her mother has ever loved someone romantically, if her mother is even capable of reaching beyond the realm of survival, if her mother has ever been granted any freedom from worry, and if her mother’s present carries the ability to dilate, for even a brief moment, into its own plane of suspended existence, separate from past or future.
  • Three Women of Chuck’s Donuts | Page: 17
  • Sure, he reeked of raw chicken, raw chicken feet, raw cow, raw cow tongue, raw fish, raw squid, raw crab, raw pig, raw pig intestine, and raw—like really raw—pig blood, all jellied, cubed, and stored in buckets before it was thrown into everyone’s noodle soup on Sunday mornings.
  • Superking Son Scores Again | Page: 31
  • “The open gym at Delta College?” Superking Son said, sarcasm stretching his every syllable into one of those diphthongs we learned about in sophomore English. An entire Shakespearean monologue nestled in the gaps between his words.
  • Superking Son Scores Again | Page: 34
  • We saw our Hennessy-drenched uncles, the older half siblings no one dared to talk about, and those cousins who attended our school but never seemed to be present at roll call.
  • Superking Son Scores Again | Page: 41
  • By taking over the grocery store, Superking Son had done right by his father’s life. He had sustained his father’s hard work, and made sure that that poor refugee’s lifetime of suffering didn’t go to waste.
  • Superking Son Scores Again | Page: 44
  • It was hard to do well in school, especially as a Cambo. And weren’t we supposed to aspire to the status of Justin’s family? Weren’t we supposed to attend college and become pharmacists? Wasn’t that what our parents had been working for? Why our ancestors had freaking died?
  • Superking Son Scores Again | Page: 49
  • And even though the building has been empty for years, gathering dust and gang signs like flies to a pile of bloody meat, even though the community has moved on to bigger and better shit, like college degrees and Costco bulk food, you’ll swear, on the graves of all those murdered Cambos, on every cupping bruise your mom self-inflicts to rid her flesh of trauma, we promise you’ll swear that the stench of raw fish, and raw everything else, never got the memo to quit and relax.
  • Superking Son Scores Again | Page: 58
  • Here’s the part that seems like a revelation until it’s forgotten as life is lived, because nothing’s special about an adulthood spent in the asshole of California, which some government official deemed worthy of a bunch of PTSD’d-out refugees, farting out dreams like it’s success intolerant.
  • Maly, Maly, Maly | Page: 65
  • “I have zero interest in facilitating the rebirth of Ma Eng. She’ll pop from my vagina reeking of tiger balm, pinching my ears ’cause she’s, like . . . already disappointed in me. No way I’m unleashing Ma Eng onto the world all over again.”
  • Maly, Maly, Maly | Page: 77
  • The summer after college, I felt like a real dumbass for having thought so little of Dad, but in my defense, that was what Cambo men did. They fixed cars, sold donuts, or got on welfare.
  • The Shop | Page: 81
  • After the customer went outside to take a phone call, Doctor Heng’s wife approached the counter and then whacked me on the head with a rolled-up magazine. “Why did you not become a doctor?”
  • The Shop | Page: 82
  • “Ming, please stop,” I said. “Violence will not solve our problems, and neither will the model minority myth.”
  • The Shop | Page: 82
  • Following this logic, stopping by the Shop was simply Doctor Heng’s wife rubbing it in our faces that her life had turned out amazing, so much better than she had ever imagined when dreaming about Dad—with her Lexus and Omega watches and Louis Vuitton bags smelling of fresh leather, all of them so giant I swore they had gained consciousness and could swallow me whole, were I to transgress their master.
  • The Shop | Page: 83
  • How many oil changes, I found myself wondering, would add up to fifty thousand dollars? And just how long would it take to get there?
  • The Shop | Page: 108
  • I finally told Mom, still thinking about our culture, how Cambos like us retained our Camboness mostly through our food.
  • The Shop | Page: 110
  • I’m not a whiz kid. I’m not living a Cambo version of Stand and Deliver. I fucked up my classes, and none of my teachers cared enough to warn me. They were too busy putting on Stand and Deliver so they could avoid teaching the real stuff.
  • The Monks | Page: 118
  • I recognized him as some Hmong dude who’d been a few years ahead of me in school. He was smiling in his uniform, ignoring the mean-mugging looks from the Cambo grandpas, who hate Hmong people for no legit reason.
  • The Monks | Page: 133
  • They imagined a future severed from their past mistakes, the history they inherited, a world in which—with no questions asked, no hesitation felt—they completed the simple actions they thought, discussed, and dreamed.
  • We Would’ve Been Princes! | Page: 176
  • My life was also pathetically devoid of tech catered lunches, tech laundry services, tech Wi-Fi commuter buses, tech holiday bonuses, tech personalized yoga sessions, tech subsidized gym memberships at Equinox, tech health and dental insurance and unlimited tech PTO, and of course those tech company T-shirts and hoodies that never fit well on anyone, unless the CEO had sprung for a corporate partnership with Lululemon or Patagonia.
  • Human Development | Page: 177
  • “That’s more like the ten-year goal versus, say, the five-year goal.” He said goal with the same intonation as my sister, with the complete confidence that donning a growth mindset was undeniably a virtue.
  • Human Development | Page: 189
  • She kept the two of us elevated in a stratosphere of legible success, with internships and research opportunities—anything to prevent us from falling to our old lives, to the poverty shackling almost 30 percent of Cambodian Americans, a statistic that she readily cited in all her job interviews, making sure to note that it was more than twice the national rate.
  • Human Development | Page: 190
  • Buzzwords rolled off his tongue as naturally as a robot trying to act human—LGBTQ, people of color, safe space.
  • Human Development | Page: 192
  • Ben wanted technology to offer people a sense of fulfillment, to rush them to shore, secure everyone to land, and I wanted to be indefinite, free to fuck off and be lost.
  • Human Development | Page: 194
  • Dolores Park was packed and unreasonably warm for San Francisco. It seemed like the entire city was drinking beer and smoking pot on the grass—desperate hipster trash, elitist Marina snobs, vapid gay cliques, and so on.
  • Human Development | Page: 196
  • He gripped my hand and dragged me into the dead-hot center of Bay Area gentrification.
  • Human Development | Page: 197
  • He seemed like the type of person who harbored no desire to prove anything, to be anything but himself.
  • Human Development | Page: 199
  • She wasn’t frustrated that I had no idea if I wanted to stay with Ben, that I kept joking about my standing in front of a luxury salon that specialized in grooming pure-bred dogs, which occupied the storefront next to Ben’s apartment. “The city’s fucking doomed,” I repeated. “We’re suffocating it with rich puppies.”
  • Human Development | Page: 203
  • We were eating a late breakfast at his apartment—brown rice and quinoa congee, pickled mustard greens sautéed with ground turkey, hard-boiled tea eggs, but with the yolks thrown out to preserve our cholesterol levels.
  • Human Development | Page: 204
  • Here I was! Living in a district that echoed a dead San Francisco. Gay, Cambodian, and not even twenty-six, carrying in my body the aftermath of war, genocide, colonialism.
  • Human Development | Page: 211
  • Remaining in that transitory state for too long, I thought, would leave our family forever adrift and uncertain, vulnerable to outside forces.
  • Generational Differences | Page: 240
  • I guess that’s another part of our generational difference: you believe we deserve answers, that there is always some truth to be uncovered.
  • Generational Differences | Page: 244
  • The sunlight pounded me in the face as I marched down the hall. I thought about how odd it was for California schools to be made up of detached buildings connected by outdoor halls.
  • Generational Differences | Page: 248
  • Don’t take this the wrong way, but I should apologize to you, for refusing to be forthcoming into and through your adulthood; before your Ba’s death, I was continually thrown, perhaps even upset, by your endless curiosity with the regime, the camps, the genocide.
  • Generational Differences | Page: 255
  • What is nuance in the face of all that we’ve experienced? But for me, your mother, just remember that, for better or worse, we can be described as survivors. Okay? Know that we’ve always kept on living.
  • Generational Differences | Page: 256
  • What else could we have done?
  • Generational Differences | Page: 256
  • #last-sentence
  • There would be no book, no writing, no ability to tell a story, no sense at all of how the world can be, without my parents, Ravy and Sienghay So, who somehow clawed their way to a livable, beautiful life, who never thought to spare me from their stories, their history, who, instead, prepared me the best they could to seek growth, to not crumble under the pressure of everything bad and unjust.
  • Acknowledgments | Page: 257