?The woman I loved wasn?t in love with me; the woman I married wasn?t a wife to me. Ilin Cheung was my wife on paper. In deed, she belonged to Yi-Tung Szeto. In debt, I also belonged to him. He was my father, paper too.?
Steer Toward Rock, Fae Myenne Ng?s heartbreaking novel of unrequited love, tells the story of the only bachelor butcher at the Universal Market in San Francisco. Jack Moon Szeto?that was the name he bought, the name he made his life by?serves the lonely grass widows whose absentee husbands work the farmlands in the Central Valley. A man who knows that the body is the only truth, Jack attends to more than just their weekly orders of lamb or beef.
But it is the free-spirited, American-born Joice Qwan with whom Jack falls in love. A woman whose life is guided by more than simple pain, Joice hands out towels at the Underground Bathhouse and sells tickets at the Great Star Theatre; her mother cleans corpses. Joice wants romance and she wants to escape Chinatown, but Jack knows that she is his ghost of love, better chased than caught.
It is the 1960s and while the world is on the edge of an exciting future, Jack has not one grain of choice in his life. When his paper wife arrives from China he is forced to fulfill the last part of his contract and to stand before the law with the woman who is to serve as mistress to his fake father. Jack has inherited a cruel cultural legacy. A man with no claim to the past, his only hope is to make a new story for himself, one that includes both Joice and America.
Not since Bone, Fae Myenne Ng?s highly praised debut novel, has a work so eloquently revealed the complex loyalties of Chinese America. Steer Toward Rock is the story of a man who chooses love over the law, illuminating a part of U.S. history few are aware of, but one that has had echoing effects for generations.
“It took Ng 15 years to produce her second novel, Steer Toward Rock . . . And those who privilege themselves by reading it through will not for one moment wonder why. Steer Toward Rock is Chinatown again, Immigration, confession, disappointment, wreckage and salvage. It is relentlessly fierce and unstintingly lovely. . . . Ng takes her time, says what she truly means to say, stares complication straight in the face, stares it down. One feels her attacking this fiction-writing business as if it’s the most important chance any of us will ever get to put the truth on paper, and one is left?it can’t be helped?in awe of her talent.”
“As recent work by Ha Jin, Junot Díaz and Jhumpa Lahiri attest, the immigrant experience is an essential story for our time. Issues of race and social class, long the thematic fodder of novelists, have become more complex with the explosion of immigrant communities. The prime American theme of identity has become political and moral, as native and immigrant alike confront what it means to be the “other” to those who live next door to you. Fae Myenne Ng entered this landscape 15 years ago with her much-heralded first novel, Bone. . . . In Steer Toward Rock, Ng takes us to the same Chinatown in an earlier time, the McCarthy era and the turbulent 1960s, offering a more poetic, imagistic and ultimately deeper investigation into the dark and complex heart of the immigrant experience.”
?Los Angeles Times
“Combining elements of gangster noir, romance, grumpy-old-man comedy, and family drama, Ng finds a fresh and exciting way to tell a familiar story.”
“A searing portrait of another immigrant struggling to get by. . . . Ng brings to this moving story both a sensuous, poetic style and an understated tone that only serves to underline the immigrant struggle.
“This eagerly awaited follow-up to Fae Myenne Ng’s first novel, Bone, again addresses the issues of Chinese-American identity in this moving, unflinching yet sometimes witty story. . . . A nuanced portrayal of two generations and the many challenges they face in their quest for security and fulfillment.”
“Ng’s second novel (Bone, 1993) depicts the tensions and affections of a complex Chinese-American family in San Francisco. . . . Her true subject [is] the cultural gulf between immigrants and their children, between aliens and citizens, the naturalized and the native.”
?This is an always gorgeous and often terrifying love story. It?s a poetic study of loyalty, love, loneliness, hard work, identity, immigration and political paranoia. I sing an honor song for Fae Myenne Ng?s return with her new novel. It has already claimed a special place on my bookshelf alongside those few books that I read and read again.? –Sherman Alexie, author of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
?Fae Myenne Ng writes like a bebop jazzer, a Miles Davis trumpet solo, tough and trenchant; moody and poetic; erratic and explosive, with surprising lines leading to beauty and to truth. Steer Toward Rock draws you into a family and pulls you into Chinatown, behind the glittery facades; beneath the gritty surfaces. Here?s how the people there talk, work, think, fight and love. I feel as though I?ve just read a future classic.? –Ben Fong Torres, author of The Rice Room, award-winning (former) editor of Rolling Stone
?Here is a tale about illegal aliens from China, told with their own images, idioms, and axioms?and charming humor. Theirs are rich, complex lives, traversing the worlds and interrupted by immigration laws, ?laws by men that collided with laws or our ancestors.? An intriguing book most relevant now, Steer Toward Rock is a truly poetic novel.? –Maxine Hong Kingston, author of The Woman Warrior and I Love a Broad Margin to My Life.
?In Steer Toward Rock, Fae Myenne Ng confirms the extraordinary talent she displayed in Bone. She makes brilliant use of economy; her characterizations are flawless, never overdone. She creates a world of people whose lives are centered in bonds and promises, who live without great expectation but with hope and strength of will. Steer Toward Rock is richly and beautifully crafted by virtue of the author?s skill. It is a fine, rewarding novel.? –Robert Stone, author of Dog Soldiers
?Fae Myenne Ng has written a luminous love story . . . her protagonist Jack Szeto, beset on all sides, a stranger in a strange land, must choose between the love of his life and the only family he has ever known. Set in a San Francisco as strange as it is quixotic and peopled with a host of heart-break characters Steer Toward Rock is a joy of a novel.? –Junot Díaz, author of Drown and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
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