cover image Afterparties: Stories

Afterparties: Stories

Anthony Veasna So. Ecco, $27.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-06-304990-1

So (1992–2020) conjures literary magic in his hilarious and insightful posthumous debut, a collection that delves into a tightly knit community of Cambodian-American immigrants in California’s Central Valley. Many of the characters are haunted by memories of genocide—one, an Alzheimer’s and dementia nurse in “Somaly Serey, Serey Somaly,” is inhabited by the spirit of a deceased relative who suffered a life of tragedy under the Khmer Rouge. The protagonist of “Human Development,” meanwhile, negotiates his Khmer heritage on a more quotidian level: While at a beer pong–fueled party with his Stanford friends a few years after graduation (“Why’s the goal of this party to reclaim the culture of closeted frat bros?” he asks), he messages with another Cambodian man on Grindr, then leaves the party to hook up after confirming they aren’t related. What makes the stories so startling is the characters’ ability to embrace life and all its messy beauty despite the darkness of the past. Characters have weddings, play badminton, fall in love, read Moby-Dick, and sometimes quip, surprisingly nonchalantly, about their national traumas—“there were no ice cubes in the genocide!” yells a father in “Three Women of Chuck’s Donuts.” Some leave home (“the asshole of California,” one of them calls it in “Maly, Maly, Maly”); others want to stay, despite how little their region has to offer. After this immersive introduction to the Central Valley community, readers won’t want to leave. Agent: Rob McQuilkin, Massie & McQuilkin Literary. (Aug.)