cover image Gunk Baby

Gunk Baby

Jamie Marina Lau. Astra House, $17 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-1-66260-145-3

In Australian writer Lau’s imaginative if underpowered sophomore effort (after Pink Mountain on Locust Island), a young woman opens a business in a sinister shopping mall. New business owner Leen, 24, originally from Hong Kong, attempts to attract Westerners to the traditional Chinese art of ear cleaning with Lotus Fusion Studio, which she operates out of a shopping complex called Topic Heights. As Leen struggles to attract customers, she meets Jean Paul, a smarmy pharmacist who invites her to a community group advocating for better treatment of retail employees, and becomes the reluctant getaway driver (Jean Paul doesn’t have a car) for the group’s “Resisting Acts,” a series of increasingly malevolent pranks on stores in Topic Heights. Then, Leen’s roommates ask her to move out so that they can focus on their new business manufacturing synthetic human urine to help people beat drug tests, and she becomes romantically involved with Luis, the manager of a successful franchise of a large Chinese lifestyle brand. Lau makes some good points about consumerism and ably captures the mood of disenchanted youth, but the slow pacing and underdeveloped supporting characters make this feel aimless. Lau has plenty of talent, but while this starts strong, it falls apart at the end. (Dec.)