cover image Pangs of Love

Pangs of Love

David Wong Louie. Alfred A. Knopf, $19 (225pp) ISBN 978-0-394-58957-2

In this notable debut collection of 11 stories, Louie paces off the perimeters of alienation as he portrays a series of characters emotionally imprisoned and isolated, many by their attitudes toward their Asian backgrounds. The protagonist of ``Displacement'' (included in The Best American Short Stories 1989 ) is Mrs. Chow, a formerly aristocratic immigrant to America who now must work as nursemaid to a disagreeable old lady. In ``Bottle of Beaujolais,'' a story involving an otter in the window of a sushi bar, the narrator who is his keeper muses about controlling the otter's environment: ``I was the north wind, the cumulonimbus, the offshore breeze, the ozone layer.'' Later, he succumbs to an obsession with an unknown woman who frequently passes the restaurant window, and the results are chaotic and surreal. The title story is a powerful portrait of a family splintered by generational differences of culture and sexual orientation. The narrator works for a company that makes almost magical-sounding flavors and fragrances. When he rages over his mother's simpleminded pleasure in watching Johnny Carson although she speaks no English after 40 years in America, he concludes, ``What I need is a spray that smells of mankind's worst fears, something on the order of canned Hiroshima, a mist of organic putrefaction, that I'll spritz whenever the audience laughs. That'll teach her.'' Louie transmutes rage and bitterness into an impressive matrix of plot and character conveyed in biting prose. (June)