Here’s Lookin’ At Yu, Kid

I did something truly reckless right before New Years:  I bought a paperback collection of recent short stories by Charles Yu –‘Sorry Please Thank You‘.  A few years ago, I spotted Yu’s antichronistic novel ‘How To Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe‘ on a bookstore shelf, read the backjacket blurb, and put it on my Christmas list so that someone else could pay the steep retail price.  No regrets:  as I read ‘SFU’ that holiday season years ago/hence, I repeatedly found myself forced to set the book down, take a deep breath, and say to myself “Holy.  Fuckin’.  Shit.  This guy is fuckin’ hilarious!”  In a mind-bending, all-is-illusion, alternate-reality, deep-truth kind of way.

At the same time, I was seriously concerned for the author’s well-being, because I got the impression that here was someone who was teetering on the brink of his own existence, and it was by no means clear that he would be able –or inclined– to step back from the edge.  Well, based on this most recent evidence I gotta say Yu hasn’t stepped back, but he hasn’t quite stepped over the edge either.  Instead, using the short story form, Yu creates one opportunity after another to march right up to the brink, wander along the rim of the abyss, and stamp his heel at the place of his own choosing.  More like Roadrunner than Wile E. Coyote.  Let’s hope.


Sorry Please Thank You‘  Wow.  Wow.  Wow.  It’s something Yu have to read for Yu-self.

sorry_please_thank you

That said, it’s a rotten shame that Yu is not among the three finalists for the Story Prize, an annual $20,000 award for short fiction.  Instead, Rebecca Lee’s “Bobcat,” Andrea Barrett’s “Archangel” and George Saunders’ “Tenth of December” are the 2013 nominees.  The winner will be announced March 5.

Just one more thing …

Oh, and what the fuck should we infer from the fact that the only fully-named (forename plus surname) character appearing in Yu’s entire collection of stories –other than ‘Charles Yu’ himself– is “Hero of History” Chang Hsueh-Liang?  Author Yu is being just a bit disingenuous when he refers to Chang (aka Zhang Xueliang) as “a general in the Chinese army about whom little is known.”  Certainly, the role Chang has been assigned in ‘The Book of Categories‘ is murkily cryptic, but so was Marshal Chang’s alternate existence in 20th century history:


Zhang Xueliang (1901-2001), nicknamed the “Young Marshal”, was the effective ruler of Manchuria and much of northern China after the assassination of his father, Zhang Zuolin, by the Japanese military in 1928.  After the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931, Zhang traveled extensively in Europe before returning to China to take command of Communist Suppression Campaigns first in Hebei-Henan-Anhui (circa 1934) and later in Shaanxi (1936).

On 6 April 1936, Zhang Xueliang met with Zhou Enlai to plan an end to the Chinese Civil War.  Their discussions culminated in the (12 December 1936) Xi’an incident, in which Zhang and NRA general Yang Hucheng kidnapped Chiang Kai-shek and imprisoned him until he agreed to form a united front with the Communists against the Japanese invasion of China.

After negotiations, Chiang agreed to form an anti-Japanese united front with the Communists, but Zhang was placed under house arrest for the next 40 years –first in Chungking, then (after 1949) in Taiwan. Zhang emigrated to Honolulu, Hawaii, in 1993. He died of there of pneumonia in 2001 at age 100.

[Zhang’s] papers, an extensive oral history and correspondence covering his life from 1937 to 1999 can be found at Peter H. L. Chang (Zhang Xueliang) Oral History Materials in Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

So, all this makes the reader wonder:  does Charles Yu’s own heritage extend back to Yu Xiajing –formerly of Shanghai, Ningpo and points east?


Tags: , , , ,

%d bloggers like this: