Almost always in her mind’s eye she sees him standing still, or she sees him about to move, or moving slowly. He had always seemed remarkably still and slow but deliberate—economical. As if this economy of movement signaled that he was saving up for some larger, grander endeavor sometime in his future. The way his eyes shifted to meet hers that first time in the dorm hallway, has been played back over and over in her mind’s eye. She sees him standing at the end of sidewalks in spots on campus, waiting, looking remotely in her direction. She sees him walking over the rise of a hill in a memory that is not a memory of anything she actually witnessed. When she looks into campfires now she feels a looming sadness, at the back of which something like the ghost of her knowledge of him still walks about. Another vision involves looking at the moon with him somewhere quiet, desert-like and surreal; a dark blue night, a luminous-white earth: a place they have never in this life gone to. The thought of ever meeting him again (of being able to live a life actually loving him) involves, inexplicably, a vision of lying curled together on a hillside, like sleeping goats, refusing to ever get up or go back into town.
What is this town? What does the hillside mean? There is still no explaining it for her. Time, she thinks, is unrelenting.
(The Gentle Order of Girls and Boys, 2006)
The Gentle Order of Girls and Boys
by Dao Strom
A book of four novellas about four women. Vietnamese women navigating American lives, men, landscapes.
In this psychologically astute examination of the rites of female passage, the acclaimed Dao Strom takes us from girlhood to young womanhood, wifehood and motherhood. Told in four sections, each story introduces us to a compelling young woman and the questions before her, set against the jungle and noise of America today.
In this elegant rendering of the rites of passage, we meet four unique young women: Mary, a film student in college who is full of yearning but finds herself confounded by the casual give-and-take of the people around her. Darcy, a twenty-something musician, who must confront the dark and unknown in the form of a naked stranger who repeatedly breaks into her ramshackle sublet. Leena, aged thirty, isolated and alone after having been transplanted from Vietnam to Texas through marriage to an American business man. And finally Sage, a new mother in her early thirties who finds herself entertaining thoughts of her son’s preschool teacher while on a road trip with her four-year-old boy and his father. With both shrewd insight into the moral perils of contemporary life and unwavering compassion for the missteps we make along the way, The Gentle Order of Girls and Boys is a major accomplishment from an exciting new talent. (Counterpoint Press, 2006)
From Publishers Weekly :
Small moments carry enormous weight in these four loosely linked novellas about young Vietnamese women living in present-day California and Texas. Mary, a film student, feels compelled to find meaning in a brief encounter she'd had with the young, white Kenny. Darcy, a cocktail waitress in San Francisco who encounters an intruder in her apartment, wonders why she cannot be "the kind of woman you needed to be... one who kept up proper barriers." Leena, married to a successful white American businessman with whom she has a young daughter, finds suburban Austin somehow "less of a life than she'd bargained for." Sage, a half-Vietnamese singer and songwriter sexually attracted to a teacher at her son's preschool, searches for the people and place that will finally feel like home. For Strom (Grass Roof, Tin Roof), the most ordinary events—eating ice cream, swatting a fly—contain minor epiphanies that can delicately convey her characters' sense of disconnection and longing. Though such moments sometimes strain under the burden of significance, Strom, like her character Mary, more often wisely leaves her audience "a little wanting—she will do no interpreting for them.
From The New Yorker :
Strom's second collection explores the lives of four Vietnamese-American women through their interactions with men. The book is informed by the Vietnamese immigrations of the nineteen-seventies but is filled with social observation of contemporary middle-class culture and indie sensibility. A film student observes that her friend is not "the first disgruntled, slightly sexually embittered male in his twenties" to identify with Travis Bickle, then silently wishes that he would "close himself—save face." A professional party girl from Ho Chi Minh City who has married a rich Texan secretly prefers the clean uniformity of a nearby housing development that her husband hates. A free-spirited young mother senses some indistinct but imminent blessing that makes her float through her cocktail-waitressing job "feeling so sharp . . . lucid and empowered." Quietly beautiful, Strom's stories are hip without being ironic.
Genre: Fiction / Stories
Publisher: Counterpoint Press (Jun 2006)
Hardcover: 352 pages