Gold by the Inch: A Novel

Overview

The narrator of "Gold by the Inch", a young New Yorker of Asian descent, has returned to the country of his birth following a disastrous relationship and his father's death. Thailand is in the throes of rampant economic development, and everyone the narrator meets - from noodle-shop owners to his own relatives to the jaded children of the rich - seems to be drunk on the nation's financial miracle. Or high on something else. The latter is true of Thong, the very young, very beautiful male prostitute who works at a...
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Overview

The narrator of "Gold by the Inch", a young New Yorker of Asian descent, has returned to the country of his birth following a disastrous relationship and his father's death. Thailand is in the throes of rampant economic development, and everyone the narrator meets - from noodle-shop owners to his own relatives to the jaded children of the rich - seems to be drunk on the nation's financial miracle. Or high on something else. The latter is true of Thong, the very young, very beautiful male prostitute who works at a Bangkok nightclub and with whom the narrator becomes romantically obsessed. As he tries to convince himself that their affair transcends the limits of commercial love, the narrator is forced to look at the connections between desire and exploitation, personal and national identity.
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Editorial Reviews

Therese Murdza
Like surrendering to a beautiful body you know will be cruel to you, Lawrence Chua reveals the story in the edgy, soft logic akin to dreams and memory. -- Lambda Book Report
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A clever challenge to Marguerite Duras's "The Lover", this first novel by journalist Chua updates the time-honored themes of empire and eroticism. In a stream of precise prose in which "even the mess has an intellectual clarity," the narrator, a nameless, precocious 23-year-old gay New Yorker, lands in his native Thailand after a 13-year absence and a painful breakup with his American lover. Recovering with drugs and debauchery in the discos of Bangkok, he quickly falls for a beautiful, privileged prostitute named Thon and ends up living with Thon's wealthy family until the affair comes to an inevitable, unhappy end. Chua's prose is sensuous, often feverish, studded with vivid images: we're hearing, the narrator notes, "the sound of time eating its own children." Despite the sadness of his subject and the grimness of his historical imagination, the narrator's restless curiosity survives his romantic disillusionments. "I love you because your body is expensive," he says near the end of the novel. In Chua's debut, love always comes with a calculable pricetag, whether or not it can be paid in cash.
Library Journal
In this gritty and revealing first novel, a 23-year-old gay male of Thai descent returns to his homeland, known for its thriving sex industry, where anything and anyone can be purchased for a price, to escape life and be with family following the death of his father and a failed relationship back in New York. The narrator takes the reader along with him on a dark journey into the nightclubs, where his evenings are often filled with sex, drugs, overindulgence, and obsession. Writing in the first and second person, Chua gives readers a true sense of his protagonist's complex struggles. His wayward journey becomes the narrator's quest for love and understanding. The images are often graphic and disturbing, giving this story a hard and realistic edge. Ultimately, Chua's novel serves as a commentary on life in a society vastly different from our own. Well recommended but not for all collections. Shirley N. Quan, Orange Cty P.L., Fountain Valley, CA
Evelyn Lau
A sparse, fragmented style which sometimes resembles the gliding poetic prose of Marguerite Duras…The author's real talent is to lay bare the narrator's heart, his confused, winded craving for someone he can never possess.
The Village Voice Literary Suppliment
Kirkus Reviews
Imagery suggesting the-urban-jungle-is-hell-nor-are-we-out-of-it threatens to suffocate a frenetic first novel about an Asian-born architect's return from America to his native Thailand. The unnamed narrator is 23, gay, and intermittently guilty for having willfully separated from his family (with whom he had emigrated to America) and bitter about his country's transformation into a glitter palace buoyed by a booming economy and riddled with drugs, booze, and beautiful people whose bodies are for hire. Chua's fragmented narrative juxtaposes these concerns against his protagonist's awareness of his own moral deterioration, which takes the form of his infatuation with a gorgeous but somewhat distracted male prostitute, Thon (he of the "face that inspires a thousand plane tickets, a million visa bribes"). A number of the story's particulars are indeed compelling: for example, the history of violent behavior that has threaded its way through the narrator's family, climaxing with his scapegrace father's dementia and death, and the mysterious unexplained demise of his grandmother, who may have been murdered (though this later information rather too nakedly emblemizes a distorted ethnic heritage.) There's also a potentially fascinating subtheme implied by the narrator's intuition that the body expresses the spirit of its desires exactly as architecture expresses that of a city—but the concept is left in an essentially inchoate state. The novel is further burdened with barely fictionalized jeremiads condemning injustices perpetrated by colonialist exploitation ("The British Empire at the beginning of the nineteenth century was essentially a drug cartel"). The idea of an architect whocan't impose order on his experiences and emotions is a promising one, and the narrator's pain and outrage seem real enough—but Chua's first fiction flies in too many directions at once to engage the reader's interest fully.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802136497
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/13/1999
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.60 (d)

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 16, 1999

    Pretentious flagellations of self and others

    Is there an older story than 'I thought that I would be different and my prostitute would really love me'? The scene is Bangkok (with a trip 'home' to Penang) and the frustrated customer is Chinese (raised in Malaysia, living in New York). He realizes that he's something of an American sex tourist in Thailand, but fails to notice that Malaysians regard him and other Chinese as unfairly privileged colonial residues. He takes out some of his aggressions on white sexual partners and feels lost and drugged a lot.

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