cover image The Collective

The Collective

Don Lee. Norton, $25.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-393-08321-7

Lee (Yellow) usually writes about pairs of men—brothers, friends, cops, writers, often polar opposites—but here develops a mixed triad, as narrator Eric Cho and the tyrannical Joshua Yoon, both aspiring novelists, befriend dormmate Jessica Tsai, a painter/sculptor. Macalester College freshmen; Eric is a good guy trying to remain so in the face of the overbearing Joshua, whose uncompromising views on everything from literary standards to their responsibilities as Asians, cripple him. When Eric has a torrid affair with an Irish Catholic girl named Didi O’Brien, Joshua disapproves in withering terms. After grad school, Joshua, Eric, and Jessica reunite to form the 3AC, the Asian American Artists Collective, living together in Joshua’s house in Cambridge, Mass. Joshua’s stories begin to be published, Eric languishes at a small literary magazine, and Jessica wins an exhibition grant from the Cambridge Arts Council. When her obscene sculptures cause a civic uproar, the 3AC dissolves in rancor, and tragedy ensues. The issues Lee wrestles with are clear: not only the sacrifice one must make to be an artist, but the melancholy burden of unfulfilled dreams. Questions of racial identity permeate every page, but apart from a lot of sex, there is too much telling and not enough showing. The author’s themes overload his slight story with spineless characters unable to bear their depressive weight. Agent: Maria Massie, Lippincott Massie McQuilkin. (July)