Steer Toward Rockby Fae Myenne Ng
Pub. Date: 05/13/2008
Steer Toward Rock, Fae Myenne Ng’s heartbreaking novel of unrequited love, tells the story of the only bachelor butcher at the/i>
“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.
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Steer Toward Rock is an exquisitely written novel. It is a great read and I highly recommend it. Fae Myenne Ng's concise prose is full of richness and insight. I felt compelled to read carefully, as I didn't want to miss anything. Her generational Chinese American characters have sharp and smart observations about themselves and their lives while living in San Francisco's Chinatown. They must navigate their way through harsh realities during the McCarthy era, yet each character's journey is written with compassion. The joys, the obstacles and limitations are voiced by indentured paper son immigrants and their fractured families. However, the question what is worth sacrificing regardless of the consequences, is at the heart of the novel. What happens when one chooses to rid a false identity and begin creating a new one? What kinds of options are truly available? Is the potential for love worth risking deportment or freedom?
This book sneaks up on you. First you are lost in the dream like prose, and only later do you get the full impact of the story. Once it fully registers it will stay with you.
This is a masterwork. Fae Myenne Ng is a genius. Her prose is almost sparse, but each word, each phrase is so thoughtfully crafted that action and feelings are expressed in deft strokes that build a picture, an impression, a quality of being. Her book is full of compassion and reverence for the depiction of a familiar figure that is well known but not understood ¿ our immigrant Chinese-American fathers/forefathers. Like a master of pen and ink drawing, each line implies physical being and movement, emotional attitude and change, and spiritual orientation. The drawing moves from being lines on a page, to expressing 2 dimensions, 3 dimensions, then movement across time and space, to insightful awareness of the interior landscape of feeling, knowledge of life lessons, and living by your convictions and the experiences that shaped you. The prose is so poetic this is a work to be savored. The way to read this book is not quickly all the way through, but gradually, so the comprehension unfolds and you can appreciate the depth and quality of feeling. For those who have grown up in San Francisco, esp. living by Chinatown, there are many familiar references to places 'some that are no more', food and experiences that are delightful. There are also stories that are painful and brutal, but are nevertheless our truth in growing up here. This is a story about a man and his interior landscape, his poetic romanticism shown in the language of his thoughts, cares and worldview. This is about a man shaped by harsh beginnings, his acts in a world that doesn¿t understand him and the consequences of his actions. His is a world peopled by garrulous cronies, powerful enemies, and the women he loves. This is a powerful work that portrays the father figure that is not easily understood in the Western sense, but is so filled with compassion and a quiet strength that we end up respecting and admiring his steadfastness and sense of rightness. As perceived from his daughter's perspective, he can be unfathomable, stubborn, unreasonable, frustrating and irrational. Her perspective is that of another generation, with such different experiences and worldview that her difficulties in relating to him are completely understandable. But she too comes to understand, respect and admire him with all his foibles, and learns how to see and love him for all he is, and integrate this in being and interacting with him.