cover image The Double Life of Benson Yu

The Double Life of Benson Yu

Kevin Chong. Atria, $27 (224p) ISBN 978-1-66800-549-1

A Chinese American comic book author faces the truth of his painful childhood in Chong’s inventive metafictional outing (after The Plague, a retelling of Camus’s novel). Benny, the fictional version of author Benson Yu, is raised by his grandmother in 1980s New York City. She dies when he is 12, and he attempts to fend for himself in their Chinatown apartment. Meanwhile, a burly white man named Constantine who believes he’s a samurai warrior has moved into the building, just down the hall from Benny’s grandmother’s apartment. In order to escape the prying eyes of social workers, Benny asks a reluctant Constantine if he can stay with him. Yu frequently intrudes on the narrative, implying that a real Constantine had abused him and claiming that his choice to make Benny 12 rather than a young adult “gets closer to the emotional truth.” After Constantine reappears in Yu’s life, Yu attempts to find catharsis through writing a fictional account of his early years. Chong delivers a convincing account of Benny’s childhood neglect, though the authorial commentary tends to confuse an otherwise vivid story. This will frustrate and move readers in equal measure. Agent: Carolyn Forde and Samantha Haywood, Transatlantic Literary. (Apr.)