Yasuko Thanh’s first story made me weep alone on a GO train if that gives you any indication of the emotional wallop in each of these tales.
It’s actually not the greatest indication because I cry stupid easily but nonetheless – I think I can say this is my favourite collection of short stories. Sometimes I find short stories are yelling at me. I’m not sure if it’s overcompensation for the lack of length, but they make it clear – HERE’S THE DRAMA. Thanh’s stories carry the emotional weight of a novel with a subtlety that whispers their melancholy, until it slowly seeps into your heart.
That’s not to say they aren’t vivid. I particularly liked The Peach Trees of Nhat Tan, bursting with colour and beauty, amidst the despair of the narrator. In just a few pages, Thanh manages to develop characters that evoke more empathy than those in lengthy novels. Many are on the brink, seemingly lost and misunderstood, but written in a way that you grasp their pain and feel that despite any flaws or mistakes they deserve more out of life than they’re getting. The narrator of Spring-Blade Knife made an arguably unforgivable mistake in murdering someone, yet his heartache struck me so deeply that I cried for the injustices he faced.
Floating Like the Dead takes you around the globe, from Asia to South America to back here in Canada, but no matter who is telling the tale or where from, it seems natural – Thanh skillfully inhabits each of her stories. Sometimes it’s a story itself that provokes admiration and sometimes it’s the way it’s told. Not to diminish any of Thanh’s narratives, but the way she wrote is what really struck a chord with me. It’s worth reading her yourself.