The Rent Collector

Camron Wright. Shadow Mountain (Baker & Taylor, dist.), $22.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-60907-122-6
The written word offers hope for a brighter future in Wright's fact-based new novel (after Letters for Emily). Sang Ly lives with her husband, Ki, and their habitually ill son, Nisay, in Cambodia's biggest municipal dump—Stung Meanchey. There, residents pick through the mountains of garbage in order to salvage resalable bits of flotsam, but Sang Ly is desperate to escape and secure a better life for her ailing son. The titular rent collector—"an abrupt, bitter, angry woman" named Sopeap Sin, but whom everyone calls "Cow—" turns out to be the gracious means by which Sang Ly's dreams might be realized. Hoping to educate Nisay, Sang Ly asks Sopeap Sin to teach her how to read, and as their pedagogical relationship deepens, so too does Sang Ly's understanding of literature expand and enrich her experience of life. But when Nisay's illness worsens and Sopeap Sin disappears, Sang Ly is wrenched from the niceties of composed narratives, and must set out on her own to save her son and uncover the truth behind her mentor's mysterious departure and elusive past. The miseries of the dump—prostitution, sickness, and gangs among them—are interwoven throughout the story, but rather than highlight the reasons behind Sang Ly's desire to leave, the peripheral chaos overwhelms and dilutes the core plot. Like Stung Meanchey, Wright's book sometimes shimmers, but there's a lot to sift through to get to the goods. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/17/2012
Release date: 09/01/2012
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Paperback - 978-1-60907-705-1
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