Spider Boys

Ming Cher, Author
Ming Cher, Author William Morrow & Company $22 (220p) ISBN 978-0-688-12858-6
Reviewed on: 05/29/1995
Release date: 06/01/1995
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Impressively confident in tone, Cher's arresting first novel details the lives of street urchins and petty criminals in the Singapore of the 1950s. The depradations of the WWII Japanese occupation are alluded to only in passing, but the lawlessness and rebelliousness that shadow these characters are its direct result. Spider boys capture and train small wrestling spiders to compete in matches for substantial stakes. Teenaged Kwang is the boys' leader, fiercely and exclusively dedicated to his spiders, much to the chagrin of his girlfriend, Kim, with the ``always ready to laugh eyes.'' Kwang, who adheres to a strict moral code even when engaged in criminal or vengeful activities, is the rival of Chai, a less sterling character, and is preyed upon by Smiling Yeow, a murderous criminal whose plans to use the boys in larger gambling operations signals an end to their comparatively innocent lives. The action builds to thrilling descriptions of the ``Spider Olympic Games.'' What follows is an anticlimax capped by a hasty denouement. But this is a small flaw in a notable debut in which Cher mines the abbreviated, hard-edged local street slang to yield prose of stunning emotional impact. The narrative moves among its characters in quick cuts, but the exposures go remarkably deep nonetheless, revealing this exotic milieu as the universal world of any child growing into adulthood. (July)
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