Awards: Los Angeles Times Book Prize Nominee for Fiction (2000)
Release date: January 30, 2001
Author: Peter Ho Davies
ISBN: 9781862074026 (186207402X)
About The Book
A collection need yield only one really great story to be, itself, great, and Peter Ho Davies’s Equal Love offers such a story — the deceptively low-key «Cakes of Baby.» A couple — he’s Indian, she’s white — spend Thanksgiving with the wife’s family. Nothing much happens. The husband, Sam, plays with a toddler, the wife, Laura, argues with her sister. But Davies uses the short-story writer’s most hackneyed milieu — the holiday get-together — to tell a thoroughly fresh tale about class. A family can encompass both good and bad luck, as the author telegraphs neatly in this quick interchange: Later, as the wine moves round the table, Nick starts up on the market. How they should all get in on it. How there’s easy money to be made. «It’s our middle-class duty, all right,» Phil says, laughing, but Suzy says she’s not middle-class. She’s a waitress, she says, looking around the table. Derek’s a mechanic. He nods. How’s that middle-class? «While your Uncle Phil is digesting that foot in his mouth…» Marilyn starts, and Laura tries to help by adding that being middle-class isn’t just about income. This is a story preoccupied with how people love each other, and also with money — two subjects that bump up against each other a lot in real life but seldom in the workshoppy kind of fiction Davies specializes in.
Davies (The Ugliest House in the World) has been celebrated, anthologized, presented with the O. Henry Award, and he certainly does the thing he does — the production of ambiguous feeling in the reader — very, very well. Many of his characters are academics, but they could just as well be butchers or yardmen; they do plain old human stuff — consider having affairs, fight with their parents, raise their kids. In fact, his second collection comes off as almost anti-intellectual, so devoid is it of literary game-playing. The only foray into formal play, «How to Be an Expatriate,» derives directly from Lorrie Moore’s stories in the imperative voice in her 1985 collection, Self-Help. But Davies eschews her bitter wit in favor of remorsefulness: «Look at old photos. Reread letters. Wish you’d kept a diary. Think, you chose this. You’re an expatriate, not an exile. It’s what you always wanted.» Here is a writer who takes feelings seriously, whose risks are emotional and never formal. — Claire Dederer
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