The Embroidered Shoes

Ronald R. Janssen, Author, Can Xue, Translator, R. Janssen, Translator Henry Holt & Company $20 (240p) ISBN 978-0-8050-5413-2
The artificial meets the supernatural in this elusive collection of 11 stories from Chinese surrealist Xue (Dialogues in Paradise; Old Floating Cloud). In ""A Dull Story,"" a champion runner loses the use of her legs to a psychosomatic illness only to find that she prefers a life of inaction to her former athletic glory. Xue's primary concern (her pen name means ""Dirty Snow"") is how memory is not up to the task of lending meaning to life: the parents in ""The Child Who Raised Poisonous Snakes"" and ""Apple Tree in the Corridor"" can't remember the births of their children, and the interlocutors of ""An Episode With No Foundation"" ""do nothing... year after year, until they forget their own existence."" Xue's characters repeatedly forget their histories. They only feel ""intimate and committed to something in their hearts"" when they tell tales, and this dilemma sets the stage for a series of observations about the compelling but ultimately deceptive nature of narrative--from the first story, which reveals an old lady's pathological delight in relating her experiences to a captive audience, to the last, in which the narrator complains, ""I discover I'm telling something that I have falsified, instead of the thing."" In the hands of all but the most agile writers, however, this awareness of narrative's fundamental dishonesty, is self-crippling: it causes Xue to drain the life from her fables. Once the novelty of blue-faced fishermen, bloody roosters and headless nuns wears off, we are left with a monotony of the bizarre and with stories that succeed all-too-well in alienating our sympathies from the people who only half-way live inside them. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/01/1997
Release date: 09/01/1997
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