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The prose is tender and lovely. Music floods every page. There are prisms of shadow and light. Chee writes with lyric vulnerability and creates characters so compelling that you physically ache for them. This is a deep dive into the body and mind of a singular author who manipulates text on the page to almost tactile effect.
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She writes powerfully about memory, yes, but she also reminds readers what it's like to inhabit a body. The essays in the book are interspersed with historical material about the Cascade tribe, one of two indigenous tribes in Washuta's heritage. Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison As a regional writer I am always looking for work that centers place, and Allison's semi-autobiographical novel does this beautifully with South Carolina.
Then comes the curried goat—inspired by a dish that Marlon himself cooks for those lucky enough—a melt-in-the-mouth experience that has diners going to the very bone for one more taste.
Having polished off what feels like an entire goat per table of eight, conversation—of day jobs far less exciting than our present circumstances, of marriages and books and subway troubles—opens up just enough room for the final course: a warm millet porridge with honeyed cashews, honey ice cream, and honeycomb. Then the meal ends, suddenly, despite its length not unlike the novel that inspired it.
Created by Grove Atlantic and Electric Literature. What, though, are we all doing here? Article continues after advertisement. Next Article 5 Great Audiobooks for Spring. Stuntwoman, Armorer, and Crime Writer? July 10, by S. Like us on Facebook. Read More. What kind of research did you do to prepare to write those scenes?
I first had to just understand that I knew very little about it. I mean, I grew up around it. It was commonplace, but not something that we delved into deeply.
It was something that was a footnote to a relationship, "Oh, yeah, and by the way, he doesn't have his papers yet," or whatever. I went down and I spent some time with the border patrol. We went down and looked at a few stash houses. They had started a program when I went down there: If they happened to bust someone operating one, and if they could seize the property, they would then knock it down, demolish it.
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I happened to be down for one of the times they were knocking it down. This was a critical piece [of research] because what I found in speaking to the immigrants that I knew was that most of them want to get through that experience and put it behind them. Even when they're in the midst of it, they don't want to look up, they don't want to be noticed.
Because to be noticed is to be a target. They just want to survive and get through it.
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Whereas his job, by virtue of having to make a case, meant he had to document everything that was going on around him. He had to know how long they were in certain locations, how money was being paid, who were the caretakers of the immigrants, all those logistics. Anyway, I reached out to him and he was amazing. He'd tell me about actual cases where he'd experienced something similar to what I was describing.
That was just invaluable.
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I didn't even know someone did this kind of work. It helped that he's written three memoirs about it, so he's a storyteller as well. In the novel you have these short passages that focus on incidental, minor characters in the book, and you kind of zoom in and briefly tell their stories about where they came from and how they and their families have been affected by immigration.
How did you decide to include those scenes? I remember being in a little Chinese restaurant that has since gone under, that I think was in Tarrytown here in Austin, a really kind of affluent, old neighborhood. The kitchen doors opened at one point, and I just looked back there, and everyone working in the kitchen was Mexican or looked to be Mexican. And of course, that wasn't the face of the restaurant. And it just struck me that no one in that restaurant knew who was cooking their food. We see the nanny with the stroller walking down the street, and we see the gardeners, but in a way they become invisible to us.
They're here, but they're not here. I think it's convenient for us to not have to know too much, to not have to hear their stories. So I was always fascinated with that, and fascinated with the idea of these people who are marginalized and still living very full and sometimes traumatic lives, but with their own aspirations and their own failings.
And in the novel, they work as almost snapshots in that we get a glimpse of how the characters are brushing up against them, but have no clue.