Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Watering Heaven by Peter Tieryas Liu

What would you do if you found out your girlfriend laid an egg every time she had sex? Who would you be if you were invited to a party in Beijing but had to make up a brand-new identity for six weeks?

Peter Tieryas Liu's Watering Heaven is a travelogue of and requiem for the American dream in all its bizarre manifestations and a surreal, fantastic journey through the streets, alleys, and airports of China. Whether it's a monk who uses acupuncture needles to help him fly or a city filled with rats about to be exterminated so that the mayor can win his reelection bid, be prepared to laugh, swoon, and shudder at the answers Peter Tieryas Liu offers in this provocative debut collection.

Goodreads Description

From the beginning I was impressed by this collection of short stories, which is very different from other short story collections featured on this blog. The fusion of Chinese and American cultures was not one I had experienced before and gave the stories an interesting perspective. Cultural dichotomy is, as has been noted elsewhere in this blog, ideal for magic realism. In these stories there is an additional layer. Peter Tieryas Liu sometimes references Chinese myths and folktales in these tales, however the China that features in these stories is a 21st century urban modern China. Interestingly the stories often express the fusion in the form of food: I absolutely recommend their spaghetti sushi broccoli hamburger. As you can tell from that quotation, Liu brings an ironic and amused eye to what he finds. 

The stories contain a lot of surreal conversations between the male narrator and a (usually eccentric, witty) young women, with whom he is besotted. These exchanges are very clever and impressive at first, but after a time they begin to pall. Indeed that was my feeling generally about the collection. For the first third of the book I thought that it was wonderful, reminding me at times of Murakami's writing, but in the second third I found myself thinking that the stories were becoming too familiar and by the last third I confess I was skipping paragraphs.

The subjects of the stories were at times imaginative and original - the woman who lays an egg every time she has sex, the girl who sells dead moths, the man who has so much plastic surgery no one recognizes him, the levitating man living in post-crash run-down amusement park. But at other times it seemed the writer was revisiting an earlier story. The writing was often poetic, with interesting imagery: Outside our cab, there's (sic) convoys of trucks from Inner Mongolia and Hebei floating between cities like dead whales carried by convex currents. 
But as this quote reveals, the book could have done with better editing, not just in picking single verbs when they should be plural but in spotting the repetition. 

My view of this book therefore is that it is a curate's egg - wonderful in parts.  

I was given this book by the publisher via Netgalley in return for a fair review

No comments: