The Thailand of Westerners' dreams shares space with a Thailand plagued by social and economic inequality in this auspicious debut collection of seven plaintive and luminous stories. In the title tale—an exquisite meditation on human dependency—a son and his ailing mother must accept the dismal reality of her encroaching blindness and what it means for his plans to attend college away from home. In "Don't Let Me Die in This Place," the most exuberant of the stories, an ornery and uproarious widowed grandfather, recently crippled by a stroke, moves from Maryland to Bangkok to live with his son, Thai daughter-in-law and their two "mongrel children." "Farangs" and "At the Café Lovely" convincingly examine adolescent friendship and love, as does "Priscilla the Cambodian"—though when a refugee camp is torched by native Thai xenophobes, it veers toward the politically dark and ominous. Politics and fear also play a role in "Draft Day," a painfully grim story about two young male friends, one of whom avoids military conscription because of his privileged background, and "Cockfighter," the final and longest of the pieces, in which a berserk local thug rules a town through violence and corruption. Young or old, male or female, all of Lapcharoensap's spirited narrators are engaging and credible. Anger, humor and longing are neatly balanced in these richly nuanced, sharply revelatory tales. Agent, Amy Williams at Collins McCormick Literary Agency. (Jan.)
Forecast: With foreign rights already sold in eight countries, and blurbs from Charles Baxter and Allan Gurganus, this stellar debut will likely be one of the most widely reviewed and read story collections of the year.
Release date: 11/01/2004