How Does a Single Blade of Grass Thank the Sun
By Doretta Lau
Nightwood Editions (April 2014)
120 Pages, $19.95 (paperback)
Reviewed by Sharon Miki
Doretta Lau’s début, How Does a Single Blade of Grass Thank the Sun, reveals the often hilarious and always thorny struggle of coming of age — presenting a vibrant milieu of Asian Canadian young adulthood.
The coincide, multi-genre collection gets its strength from Lau’s ability to craft relatable characters that the reader cares about. Lau — who was selected as a 2013 Journey Prize Finalist for the book’s titular story — crafts protagonists who are the twenty-something friends that we love and wish further success for, desperate their growing phase of selfish inanity and restlessness. Form a young woman who decides to date the long-dead ghost of Glenn Gould, to a suddenly unemployed photographer at a crossroads between the ease of porn and the struggle of art, to a Simon Fraser University communications grad who’s randomly temping while engaging in futile relationships to avoid facing reality, the characters in the stories of How Does a Single Blade of Grass Thank the Sun are wildly different people in their situations, timelines, and specific aspirations — yet they share the undulating, overlapping tonal experiences of the tedium that comes with being young and Canadian.
Perhaps the most interesting ingredient of Lau’s collection is the element of “Asian-ness”: most of the people in the book’s worlds are of Asian descent, living in a Western world, but their Asian background is rarely the focus of their experiences.
The strongest of the collection’s stories is the first: “God Damn, How Real is This?” starts the reader off in a science-fictionalized present in which the future is literally calling (or texting) us up in the now. The premise is completely off-the-wall — but it’s still plausible enough that the reader can quickly acclimatize and enjoy its characters’ relatable problems with social anxiety, loneliness, and internet-sourced Munchausen syndrome. Lau’s aptitude for capturing characters’ discontentment without becoming morose is also well represented in the story “Days of Being Wild,” which debuted in Ricepaper 18.3.
How Does a Single Blade of Grass Thank the Sun is a refreshingly whimsical, candid, and page-turningly hilarious debut from Doretta Lau. the quasi-absurd and often-eccentric humour and pop culture-soaked landscapes of the stories are risky, but when they pay off (as they do in pieces like “Rerun,” “God Damn, How Real is This?,” and “Sad Ghosts”), the wit and pop of Lau’s stories give her characters the ability to breathe and bathe in the schmaltz and ennui of their experiences without being maudlin.
This review was featured in issue 19.1
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