cover image There's Nothing I Can Do When I Think of You Late at Night

There's Nothing I Can Do When I Think of You Late at Night

Naiqian Cao. Columbia University Press, $26.5 (232pp) ISBN 978-0-231-14810-8

jfIn this collection of linked short stories, Chinese novelist Cao examines the often barbaric side of human behavior in the face of stark poverty and extreme necessity in Wen Clan Caves, a remote fictional village near the Inner Mongolian border. In ""Women,"" newly betrothed Wen Hai searches for a method that will force his bride to obey him, settling on a harsh solution after listening to familial advice. In ""Men"" Old Zhuzhu, watches moths fluttering near an open flame as he contemplates the nature of the relationship between his brother and his wife. The protagonist in ""Lucky Ox,"" who lends his name to the title, obsessively bursts into a song and dance routine in large crowds with less than humorous results . In ""Old Yinyin,"" a blind man ponders the quality of his life under a village landmark, the crooked tree at the source of the West River. Cao's spare style may lack universal appeal, yet it deftly captures the villagers' desolation and their hardscrabble lives.