[Review] Deceit And Other Possibilities by Vanessa Hua

I’ve read many excellent short story collections and anthologies in 2016, all of them written by people of color or Indigenous people. But Vanessa Hua’s Deceit and Other Possibilities stands out as one of the finest ones in my collection. One of the things I appreciate about short story collections is the variety that they innately offer and that is especially true in Hua’s stories. Not only are circumstances and scenarios presented in her stories wildly different from each other, there is also great diversity in the backgrounds of the characters around which the stories center.

Hua does an excellent job inhabiting the minds of different kinds of people — from a Hong Kong movie & music idol fleeing a sex scandal to a boy who leaves Mexico to seek a new life and opportunity. I commend Hua’s ability to write about a variety of experiences different from her own with respect and nuance. While I understand and promote the need for #ownvoices narratives, it is equally important for writers of color explore the boundaries of their imagination and creativity. But it is important that they do so with care and empathy. Vanessa Hua succeeds on both counts. And even when she writes a typical Mexican immigrant story of a family leaving their home country for a better life, the detail and empathy with which she writes renders the characters as distinctly human.

As the title may suggest, the common thread in all of these stories is deception. Let me tell you, this makes for fascinating storytelling and tension. Some of the characters deceive themselves while others outwardly and egregiously deceive others with potentially disastrous consequences. Another common thread is the characters themselves! A few characters make an appearance in other stories, which is always a plus in my book because despite how much I now like short story collections, I can’t quite abandon my bias for novels. Recurring characters offer familiar grounds for a novel lover like myself. Additionally, the stories center around first generation immigrants or the American children of immigrants. And once again, I must note that despite all these common threads, the stories manage to be drastically different from each other.

Standout Stories

Line, Please

The opening story is the most striking and memorable one of all. A handsome young man named Kingsway Lee is the son of Chinese immigrants who goes to Hong Kong on vacation, is discovered by a talent scout due to his good looks, and quickly goes from model to movie start to pop idol. This story is fun and sensational, meaning it is both well-crafted and has plenty of lurid details. These details come from the fact that Kingsway is fleeing a sex scandal after his computer and phone were hacked and his most intimate secrets exposed. 

 

Accepted

Elaine Park is a bright Korean-American student who fails to get accepted into Stanford University. This is a problem because she did not bother to apply to other schools and is terrified of admitting her failure to her parents. So she schemes and orchestrates a life as a student at the university, squatting in a dorm for months and deceiving students and staff alike into thinking she’s actually a student there. Seeing into the mind of Elaine was fascinating and I couldn’t believe she had gotten herself into such a deep hole and a mess of trouble. How could any of this possibly go wrong and backfire?

 

The Deal

The story of David Noh, a Koren-American evangelical pastor with a gambling addiction and a bad habit of ignoring his problems. It gets so bad that he has maxed that credit card and thousands of unpaid bills because he simply forgets to pay them. His church is in dire straits financially, so David leads a mission to a small town in Africa, hoping that if it’s successful, he will be able to return to America and convince people that his work is valuable and worth endorsing. Take a wild guess if his mission will succeed or not…His web of lies runs so deep that it’s difficult for them not to backfire. And as this is the last story of the collection, the previous ones should be clue enough that indeed nothing goes right for him and the prospects of his future were anxiety-inducing for me to think about.

In addition to the rich variety of experiences depicted in the 10 stories, I must also commend Hua’s voice and style. You’ll get top-notch, literary writing in this collection. The language is elegant and smart in some stories and concise and fun in others, which will help you breeze through the 145 pages that comprise this collection. You may indulge in them all in one sitting or savor one at a time. The reading experience should be enjoyable either way. Deceit and Other Possibilities has my honest recommendation. If you do not regularly read short fiction but are curious to dive in, this is a solid place to start. The characters are not all likable, but they are rendered with such nuance and intimacy that it’s almost impossible not to empathize with them. 

Disclosure: I received a copy of  the book from the author for review consideration.

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Deceit and Other Possibilities


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29 thoughts on “[Review] Deceit And Other Possibilities by Vanessa Hua

  1. These stories sound pretty cool, especially Accepted. I knew a guy who was fired but too embarrassed to tell his wife, so he pretended to go to work for a few months. I always wondered how that worked with joint (I assume) bank accounts and bills to pay.

  2. Spot on review! I just finished this collection and will be writing a review soon but everything you say about how the collection flows together and how Hua is able to write with so much empathy across identity. All the stories you picked out stand out to me as well (more in my review :))! The common thread of deception and deceit was done exceptionally well. Each deception had its own intentions behind it and it’s own feeling as a reader… like the deception of Elaine Park felt very different from the deception of Kingsway Lee. But tied in with the common theme. Okay, I’ll stop gushing and mini-reviewing all over your comments, but thank you your very well-written and insightful review. I’ll be sure to link you when I post.

  3. I love short story collections, and this one has been on my bookish radar for a while. I like the variety of the main characters’ backgrounds. I’m on a waiting list for this book, but I’m pretty far down the list, so who knows when I’ll get to read it. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  4. Wonderful review Naz, have this one on my tbr and now I cannot wait! Oh anthologies! I’ve resolved myself to the fact that I’ll need to read more ebooks if I don’t want to wait ages to get hold of anthologies and found a number of them not too expensive on amazon kindle. I fear a buying spree 😀 But more short stories and works by AsianAm WOC are on my 2017 list. Also, I got the ebook of Hammer on Bone since you recced it!

    1. Bina! I’m so happy to see you blog hopping. 🙂 And also happy to hear you’re going to read this short story collection. You’ll love it!!
      Ooh, Hammers On Bone is so creepy, dark, and cool. It really got me interested in reading more of Cassandra Khaw’s writing. Also looking forward to book 2 in the series!

      1. Aww thanks so much 😊 Hammers on Bones was so amazingly written, loved the horror, only the misogynist Pi and nearly all dudes bothered me. I’m still looking forward to the sequel and I think I’d love anything w another pov by this author.

  5. It takes a lot for an author to skillfully write so many diverse stories and characters. It sounds like Vanessa Hua succeeded with flying colors. The subject of deception offers so many possibilities, it is fascinating. I don’t often read short stories but I’m really curious about those ones.

  6. That poor girl too afraid to tell her parents about the college…I dated a guy in college who was from South Korea. He hadn’t done well on something in high school and tried to kill himself. He was such an amazing person, and I’m glad he’s okay.

  7. I don’t often add short story collections to my list, but you’ve convinced me on this one! The deception theme especially appeals to me, and, of course the fact that the stories have some characters in common (for the same reason as you!).

  8. Since I listen to an endless amount of Kpop music, ‘Line, Please’ has me very intrigued as I know how Chinese pop scene can be expansive too. ‘Accepted’ also piques my interest so I will definitely try to pick up this collection in the future.

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