I received a free e-copy of this book in exchange for an open and honest review.
This short story collection is like no other I have read in the past year. Vanessa Hua presents ten stories all involving the theme of deceit, lies, or hiding the truth. All ten stories center around immigrant families in the United States. While the theme remains the same throughout the stories, the manifestation of the theme changes drastically depending on the context, situations, and characters. This is the second collection I read in 2016 where I felt the theme laid out in the title was interwoven throughout drastically different stories. All the stories deal with the complex dynamics of immigrant families, mostly Asian immigrant families. While Vanessa Hua does not always write from an #OwnVoices perspective, I think she is able to write across identity with authenticity, empathy, and care. Spoiler alert for this review: Deceit and Other Possibilities was one of my favorite collections of short stories I read in 2016!
The first two short stories, Line, Please and Loaves and Fishes, I found to be very interesting because they are two stories within the same context, involving two different characters and their perspectives. The first one follows Kingsway Lee, a Chinese pop-star, as he returns to the United States after a huge sex scandal in Hong Kong. His family came to the United States but Kingsway decided to move back to Hong Kong for fame and fortune. The story takes Kingsway’s perspective as he comes back to his family in the Untied States. There is obvious tension in his interactions with his family not just because of his scandals, but because of his career decisions that led to his scandals. The second story follows a disgraced priest who sits next to Kingsway on an airplane to Hong Kong. The priest is known to use many different techniques of observation or other more invasive forms of discovery in order to impress who he is talking to or praying with. This gives the illusion that God is working through the priest, when in reality, the priest is going through people’s bags, phones, etc. The priest rationalizes his deceit through the success of his evangelism and tries to deceive Kingsways into joining him to spread Christina doctrines.I was impressed at the two drastically different forms of deceit within the dame story line.
For What They Shared follows a Chinese family as the daughter, Lin, takes her parents camping at Big Sur with her and her partner. This story felt vaguely familiar as I have camped in Big Sur with my Japanese family and friends, some were more into camping than others. The dialogue around the value of camping between the parents and Lin really resonated with me… and it was more of a dialogue about Western values (America/United States) versus Easter values (China), just using camping as examples. On the other side of the story follows Aileen, a US born Chinese person, as she camps with her friends (mostly White people) at the campsite next to Lin and her family. The way Hua writes this short story shows the stark differences of values and experiences between a Chinese person in the United States and a person with Chinese heritage born and raised in the United States.
The story that hit home the most with me was the one about the college admission, called Accepted. In the story, the main character Elaine worked very hard throughout high school and in extra curricular activities to get into Stanford University. Unfortunately, she falls short of that goal but cannot bring herself to tell her parents. She moves to Stanford, makes friends with a student there, and moves in with that friend because there “has been complications with her housing paperwork.” The lies get deeper and deeper; more intricate as the story progresses. Elaine attempts to reapply to Stanford with hopes that her admission will erase all the deception she has built up. But eventually the lies become too much and start to unravel. This story hits home with me for two main reasons. The first is the cultural values around achievement (“The American Dream”) of Asian immigrant families in the United States. Getting accepted into a prestigious college is one of the pinnacles of achievement for first-generation students, particularly within many Asian cultures. The fear of shame drives this Elaine in the story to fake her acceptance. The second reason why this hits home is because this actually happened with a high schiool classmate of my cousin. This particular student did not get into their top college choice, lied to their parents, moved to the campus anyways, snuck into the dining halls, and sat in on classes. Eventually their lies unravelled similarly to Elaine and it was all over the news. This reinforced many stereotypes about immigrant Asian communities around how parents treat and raise their children.
I think this short story collection is very important. Author Vanessa Hua writes about the many different experiences of immigrants in the United States, exploring the various challenges and successes they face. For an author, writing stories outside of their experiences is very challenging and we have seen the results when they are not written with care, empathy, and humility. But as writers, we cannot shy away. We will make mistakes and we will have to accept that and accept being called out with grace. I think Vanessa Hua writes about a diversity of experiences very well. Definitely check out her short story collection!
Final Rating: 4.5/5