2:18:12 Beauty Plus Pity, a book review

Canadian Kevin Chong begins Beauty Plus Pity with a stunner first paragraph:

"Who'd pick a funeral to meet your long-lost sister? A funeral or the sudden arrival of a family member--either would be shitty enough, but that morning, my head felt encased in bubble wrap, my stomach was a wading pool of bile, and I was sweating booze through my shoulder-stuffed suit like a cigarette lighter before it ignites. All of this was self-administered misery, and yet I still arrived late to deliver my father's eulogy."

The narrator, Malcolm Kwan, a twenty-something Canadian-Chinese slacker, works in a used record store in Vancouver, BC. His parents wanted him to make something of himself. Malcolm tried writing a film script--that didn't click. His ex-girlfriend Sandrine suggested, with his looks--male modelling--but he's content to let the idea simmer (for years).

[beauty plus pity]Then his dad dies.

Beauty Plus Pity is a young man's try at ambition, post-pater.

Malcolm father's Oliver wanted to be a great film director and claimed to have helped Edward Chew become Hollywood box office. But Oliver settled for making training films and commercials for local pizza chains.

If Malcolm's father fell short on his dream, he made up for it with vices: smoking, drinking, and womanizing about with "Uncle Charlie" (who before and after the funeral takes Malcolm out). Plus, at the funeral, a previously unknown half-sister of Malcolm, Hadley, shows up.

Malcolm takes Hadley on as a housemate. A wistful sibling attraction develops.

Alas, the story takes hard turns toward implausibility:

* Malcolm's break in modelling comes from the famous Edward Chew. In town to shoot a commercial, he chooses Malcolm (whom he never knew).

* Malcolm's girlfriend Claire moves out and marries Seamus, male lover of the husband of Vanessa (Malcolm's modelling agent) before said unfaithful husband was killed crossing a street.

* Malcolm's half-sister Hadley--on the school water polo team--goes off to Guyana for volunteer work. On a hot day, she goes swimming and drowns.

* Malcolm's ex-girlfriend Sandrine shows up. She reveals--this years later--Malcolm fathered Felix, a baby put out for adoption. Malcolm meets Felix and the adoptive parents. And Malcolm and Sandrine go conjugal again.

In sum: strong dialogue, vivid portrayal of intricacies from one Hong Kong/Vancouver Canadian-Chinese family. But lacking self-awareness, Malcolm seems fated to follow his father's errant footsteps. 'Tis the pity, not the beauty.

Beauty Plus Pity by Kevin Chong, Arsenal Pulp Press, Vancouver, 2011, 256 pp.,  ISBN: 97815511524160.

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The Cat at Light's End

Read Charlie Dickinson's story collection, The Cat at Light's End, as an ebook in these downloadable formats:

.mobi (Kindle)
.epub (most other readers)
.pdf (for PCs)

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