cover image Dialogues in Paradise

Dialogues in Paradise

Can Xue, Canxue, Xue Can. Northwestern University Press, $19 (173pp) ISBN 978-0-8101-0831-8

Chinese Can Xue's first book to appear in English radically departs from the realism governing the fiction of her compatriots. ``Because of universal love,'' she declares, ``human beings can detach and sublimate themselves in the realm of art.'' The stories here reflect an interior vision in which conflict is represented impressionistically, symbolically. ``My mother has melted into a basin of soap bubbles,'' begins the confession of a man literally bestialized by his anger; elsewhere, a protagonist suddenly perceives that ``Father . . . has the all-too-familiar eye of a wolf. So that was it! At night he became one of the wolves.'' Other metaphors resist decoding (``The transparent tree is shaking its white canopy'') and some conceits seem coy (``That night she lay down and suddenly realized she had not gone to sleep''). Can Xue's insistence on a set of hermetic referents strains her powers as a storyteller--the narrative yields almost wholly to steadily mutating images. Ironically, the most dynamic of these works is also the most conventional--a poignant autobiographical account of Can Xue's childhood in the late '50s and '60s, the hardships that political upheaval visited upon her family and the circumstances and aspirations that have shaped her writing. (July)