Steer Toward Rock

( 4 )


"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 ...

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"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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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

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. Jack Moon Szeto enters San Francisco in 1952, falsely posing as the son of Yi-Tung "Gold" Szeto, a registered U.S. citizen. In return, Jack must pay Szeto by working for two years and marrying a "fake wife." Employed as a butcher, Jack takes the younger Joice Qwan as his lover. Even though she becomes pregnant, Joice refuses to marry Jack. Despondent, Jack attempts to nullify his contract with Szeto before entering the INS's Chinese Confession Program and renouncing his false identity, resulting in Szeto's deportation, but not citizenship for Jack. Toward the end, the story shifts to Jack's congenial relationship with his spirited daughter Veda, whose growing mission is to protect Jack by making him a naturalized U.S. citizen. Ng's simple, sturdy yet poetic prose is juxtaposed against the clinical language of Jack's immigration documents; the result is a nuanced portrayal of two generations and the many challenges they face in their quest for security and fulfillment. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Chicago Tribune
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.
Los Angeles Times
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.
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.
Kirkus Reviews
Ng's second novel (Bone, 1993) depicts the tensions and affections of a complex Chinese-American family in San Francisco. In 1952, Jack Moon Szeto is admitted to the United States as the "son of a native," Gold Szeto, a businessman and fixer for whom he goes to work as a butcher. Jack becomes something of a Chinatown lothario ("Lord of the Peach Blossoms, lucky in the garden" to use his flowery phrase), but that ends when he falls in love with Joice, daughter of the neighborhood's corpse-washer and thus, to many, untouchable by association. When Joice becomes pregnant with a daughter and Gold arranges for Jack's Chinese bride-actually a mistress for his sponsor-to join her "husband" stateside, Jack makes a fateful decision. He informs on Gold to the McCarthy-era Chinese Confession Program, and Gold is deported-not before issuing the order that Jack surrender a pound of flesh (in this case a hand) for his betrayal. Joice, who longs to escape the physical and spiritual confines of Chinatown, moves away and marries. The first half of the book is written in spare, lyrical prose that can be affecting but also frustrating; there's too much grand abstraction, too much dialogue like "Don't be a coolie of love!" and "A muddled heart never leads the hero to a new dawn." Yet Ng also provides brisk, unadorned descriptions of butchery, fortune-cookie making, and more. The book picks up considerably in the second half, which focuses on Jack's American-born daughter and her loving but fractious relationship with her father, who's hampered by poor English, his physical handicap and a childhood whose central, awful event she can scarcely imagine. Here the author discovers her true subject: the culturalgulf between immigrants and their children, between aliens and citizens, the naturalized and the native. Ng's novel finds its force in the latter stages, which explore the bond between a lively, confident American daughter and her remote Chinese father.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780786860975
  • Publisher: Hyperion
  • Publication date: 5/13/2008
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 949,206
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 11, 2008

    Highly recommend

    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?

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2008

    A reviewer

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 15, 2008

    A Stealthy Stunner

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 31, 2010

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