cover image Neotenica


Joon Oluchi Lee. Nightboat, $15.95 trade paper (104p) ISBN 978-1-64362-020-6

Lee (Lace Sick Bag) trains a droll, analytical eye on sex, desire, and gender in this delicious avant-garde novella. An unnamed 28-year-old Korean-American man rides the BART train from a house party in West Oakland back to San Francisco, happily smelling of “marijuana, beer, and dudes.” He’s engaged to be married to a woman named Young Ae, and meanwhile explores his sexuality by having sex with men. After he is beaten on the train, he refuses to describe his homophobic attackers to the police, stating, “I don’t believe in crime prevention.” The Korean-born Young Ae is attracted to her future husband’s blend of soft and flinty characteristics (naked, he “looked strong but with relaxed edges”), and the couple continue myriad sexual escapades with other partners after they are married. Lee makes big leaps in time from one episodic section to the next, moving chronologically as he explores the quirky nature of physical attraction and the vagaries of love. The couple has a son, who at 10 years old receives less affection from his parents than their dog does. Lee describes the couple’s sexual encounters with a clinical precision and loopy sense of detail, while showing emotion in descriptions of the husband’s lonely moments of desire. What’s left feels as true as it is absurd. (May)