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.
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.
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 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.
_Add on Goodreads_
Thank you for reading. Enter your email below to receive frequent updates from RDB!
U.S. Affiliate Link