The Collective

( 3 )

Overview

A sparkling bildungsroman about friendship and betrayal, art and race.
In 1988, Eric Cho, an aspiring writer, arrives at Macalester College. On his first day he meets a beautiful fledgling painter, Jessica Tsai, and another would-be novelist, the larger-than-life Joshua Yoon. Brilliant, bawdy, generous, and manipulative, Joshua alters the course of their lives, rallying them together when they face an adolescent act of racism. As adults in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the three ...

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The Collective: A Novel

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Overview

A sparkling bildungsroman about friendship and betrayal, art and race.
In 1988, Eric Cho, an aspiring writer, arrives at Macalester College. On his first day he meets a beautiful fledgling painter, Jessica Tsai, and another would-be novelist, the larger-than-life Joshua Yoon. Brilliant, bawdy, generous, and manipulative, Joshua alters the course of their lives, rallying them together when they face an adolescent act of racism. As adults in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the three friends reunite as the 3AC, the Asian American Artists Collective—together negotiating the demands of art, love, commerce, and idealism until another racially tinged controversy hits the headlines, this time with far greater consequences. Long after the 3AC has disbanded, Eric reflects on these events as he tries to make sense of Joshua’s recent suicide.
With wit, humor, and compassion, The Collective explores the dream of becoming an artist, and questions whether the reality is worth the sacrifice.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Lee (Yellow) usually writes about pairs of men—brothers, friends, cops, writers, often polar opposites—but here develops a mixed triad, as narrator Eric Cho and the tyrannical Joshua Yoon, both aspiring novelists, befriend dormmate Jessica Tsai, a painter/sculptor. Macalester College freshmen; Eric is a good guy trying to remain so in the face of the overbearing Joshua, whose uncompromising views on everything from literary standards to their responsibilities as Asians, cripple him. When Eric has a torrid affair with an Irish Catholic girl named Didi O’Brien, Joshua disapproves in withering terms. After grad school, Joshua, Eric, and Jessica reunite to form the 3AC, the Asian American Artists Collective, living together in Joshua’s house in Cambridge, Mass. Joshua’s stories begin to be published, Eric languishes at a small literary magazine, and Jessica wins an exhibition grant from the Cambridge Arts Council. When her obscene sculptures cause a civic uproar, the 3AC dissolves in rancor, and tragedy ensues. The issues Lee wrestles with are clear: not only the sacrifice one must make to be an artist, but the melancholy burden of unfulfilled dreams. Questions of racial identity permeate every page, but apart from a lot of sex, there is too much telling and not enough showing. The author’s themes overload his slight story with spineless characters unable to bear their depressive weight. Agent: Maria Massie, Lippincott Massie McQuilkin. (July)
Stephan Lee - Entertainment Weekly
“Lee comes with an agenda—an important one—about ethnicity and art, but he also delivers a heartbreaking, sexy, and frequently funny story about fractured friendships.”
John Freeman - Boston Globe
“It is a hilarious and winning story, smoothly told...”
Entertainment Weekly
Lee comes with an agenda—an important one—about ethnicity and art, but he also delivers a heartbreaking, sexy, and frequently funny story about fractured friendships.— Stephan Lee
Boston Globe
It is a hilarious and winning story, smoothly told...— John Freeman
Library Journal
After meeting in 1988 as freshmen at Macalester College, Eric Cho, Jessica Tsai, and Joshua Meer (who later changes his adoptive surname to Yoon) become friends who share more than their Asian American heritage. Lee, winner of the Edgar and American Book Award for his first novel, Country of Origin (2004), presents a no-holds-barred portrait of the three students—the 3AC, or Asian American Artists Collective, as they call themselves—as they break stereotypes to pursue their dreams: Eric and Joshua are aspiring writers, while Jessica is an artist. Eric, who carried a torch for Jessica before discovering that she was a lesbian, narrates the trio's two-decade journey of friendship and artistic discovery. VERDICT Offering strong characterizations and thought-provoking prose, Lee addresses the Asian American experience from various vantage points, realistically examining themes ranging from personal relationships to racism and artistic censorship. His novel has enough depth to spark uninhibited discussion in any book group and, given its time frame, will have special meaning for Gen X readers. [See Prepub Alert, 1/8/12.]—Shirley N. Quan, Orange Cty. P.L., Santa Ana, CA
Kirkus Reviews
During college and afterwards, some aspiring Asian-American artists figure out their identities in this third novel from the former editor of Ploughshares (Wrack and Ruin, 2008, etc.). Eric Cho, the narrator, is a third generation Korean-American from California. In 1988 he arrives at Macalester, a small liberal arts college in St. Paul, Minn. Unformed and eager to please, he falls under the influence of Joshua Yoon, a Korean orphan adopted and raised lovingly by two Harvard professors, both Jews. While Joshua, a loudmouth and provocateur, complains about the pervasiveness of racism, Eric finds a willing girlfriend in Didi, a blonde Irish Catholic from Boston. When Didi ends the relationship, it's an I-told-you moment for Joshua; obviously she had just been slumming. He presses his point home in a creative writing class (both he and Eric are would-be novelists) by savagely attacking a white girl's story; she retaliates, leaving a racist slur outside his dorm. Eric draws closer to Joshua and Jessica, a Taiwanese-American art student; they style themselves the 3AC (Asian American Artists Collective). Eric also acknowledges that they are "insufferable twits." After graduation, all three find themselves in Boston. They expand the Collective to include a range of avant-garde types intent on combating media stereotypes of Asians, but it never really gets off the ground; the group can't even agree on a mission statement for the website. Joshua's leadership has failed. Years later, after his suicide (Lee uses it as a hook for his opening), Eric concludes that "Joshua was a liar, a narcissist, a naysayer, a bully, and a misogynist." Add to that list: a bore. Lee doesn't persuade us that Joshua has the charisma necessary to keep Eric in thrall to him. In lieu of a plot, he gives Eric another doomed relationship, and then a controversy and media circus over a risqué installation of Jessica's that celebrates the Asian phallus. A novel undone by Lee's indecisiveness over how much slack to cut his protagonist, the obnoxious Joshua.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393083217
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 7/16/2012
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 816,125
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Don Lee has received an American Book Award, the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction, the Edgar Award for Best First Novel, an O. Henry Award, a Pushcart Prize, and the Fred R. Brown Literary Award. His stories have appeared in The Kenyon Review, GQ, The Southern Review, American Short Fiction, The Gettysburg Review, and elsewhere. For nineteen years, he was the principal editor of the literary journal Ploughshares. He is currently the director of the MFA program in creative writing at Temple University.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 26, 2013

    Don Lee's writing is quite clear and his stories are unique in t

    Don Lee's writing is quite clear and his stories are unique in that he captures a facet of American life that is often not seen or heard from in most literature.

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  • Posted August 24, 2012

    Read this book

    This is the first Don Lee book I have read and it will not be my last. Lee captures the contemporary Asian American perspective and has written one of the best scenes about creating a mission statement that should be required reading for every MBA! I picked this book up out of a stack of seven, and was hooked from the beginning without realizing what it was really about. I have learned something about myself, and others, which I hope flatters the author as it should.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 12, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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