Dispatches from the Cold

Leonard Chang, Author Black Heron Press $23.95 (250p) ISBN 978-0-930773-49-6
In his provocative second novel (after The Fruit 'N Food), Chang deftly varies a formula used by Hitchcock in Rear Window: a man in a position of enforced idleness becomes obsessed with the activities of a total stranger. But the man, in this case, lives in New York, and the stranger, Farrel Gorden, lives in New Hampshire. The unnamed 29-year-old narrator is an unemployed high-school teacher who receives mail for the former tenant of his apartment, Mona Gorden (who, he discovers later, has died). Impulsively opening one of the letters, he is soon passively involved in the life of Mona's brother, Farrel Gorden, a discontented sporting-goods salesman who is experiencing emotional chaos. The narrator learns that Gorden's boss has been fired, and his replacement, a Korean named Roger Shin, gets on Gorden's nerves. When Gorden meets Shin's wife, Helen, however, he begins to fantasize about her, especially since his live-in relationship with 17-year-old Shari is deteriorating. Gorden eventually seduces Helen and in his euphoria fails to recognize Shari's deepening depression-- until it is too late. The substance of Gorden's life is filled in by the narrator's inferences from his letters, and one gets a sense that Gorden and the narrator are secret sharers in a compulsive bond. In clean and vernacular-accurate prose, Chang painstakingly evokes the working-class lives of both characters, as well as their ethnic prejudices and misunderstandings. The deliberately slow pace of the narrative accentuates the impact of the step-by-step account of Gorden's descent into murderous rage, building to the narrator's disastrous intervention. In the end, the trajectory of both their lives acquires an air of tragic inevitability. (July)
Reviewed on: 06/29/1998
Release date: 01/01/2010
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