Blair's Reviews > Home Remedies

Home Remedies by Xuan Juliana Wang
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really liked it
bookshelves: 2019-release, contemporary, read-on-kindle, edelweiss, short-stories

A strong debut collection of short stories. Billed as being specifically about the Chinese millennial experience, but in fact it's rather broader than that; there's nothing about 'unconventional sex lives' or 'fantastic technologies' in here either. (That blurb is weird.) The 12 stories are sorted into three sections: 'Family', 'Love', and 'Time and Space'. One of the most exciting things about this collection is its variety of voices and tones, the sense that each new story represents a completely fresh perspective. At times, Xuan Juliana Wang's writing made me think of Jen George or Kristen Roupenian, but really, Home Remedies is its own thing.

My favourites were:

'Days of Being Mild': Largely plotless account of a group of Bei Piao, 'the twenty-somethings who drift aimlessly to the northern capital, a phenomenal tumble of new faces to Beijing.' They fall in love, break up, make music, watch porn, go drinking. The story is packed with details that feel authentic, tender and/or funny.

We are not good at math or saving money but we are very good at being young.

'Fuerdai to the Max': The narrator and his friend Kenny are fuerdai – second-generation rich. They've been studying in California, but have now returned to Beijing under something of a cloud. What did they do? These overprivileged kids initially come off as oddly likeable, but the deceptively casual narrative is leading us to a horrible revelation.

By the time the police tried to find me at school, I was out of the country. They couldn't keep our names straight anyway. Zhang, Ming, Yuyao, Jirui, Kao, Duo Duo, Fung, it was all the same to the cops. They couldn't tell us apart, they didn't know if a person was missing, just thought it was one person with three names or three people with the same name.

'Home Remedies for Non-Life-Threatening Ailments': Presented as practical advice on dealing with emotional problems, this story progresses through a series of increasingly absurd scenarios. 'Bilingual Heartache', for example, is 'someone breaking your heart in a foreign language. It is like regular heartache but somehow it's painful in a creative, innovative way.' The advice for that one is to pray for a painful, unsightly cold sore, so 'you can instead wallow in self-pity'.

Tipple Nyquil from the bottle, and as your arms go numb and your chest sinks to the bottom of the mattress, think how much better life is now. Really!

'Vaulting the Sea': Taoyu and Hai are champion synchronised divers. Taoyu is secretly in love with Hai, but he also feels Hai is inseparable from himself; they have been training together since childhood, eating and studying together, sharing a bed. The characters' movements and interactions are described with graceful lyricism, and there are some beautiful images here, particularly the final scene.

He couldn't explain it, but he felt right in that water, a space rapturous, ancient with life.

'The Strawberry Years': As a favour to a colleague, Yang agrees to look after a Chinese actress who's visiting New York. Only she gets obsessed with his apartment and refuses to leave, protesting that it's so popular with the fans who watch her livestream, and can't Yang just find somewhere else to live? This nightmarish premise made my skin crawl, and it's brought to life precisely and effectively as Yang's identity is slowly dismantled. Ultimately, he seems to grasp at the possibilities of his chameleonic existence in New York, but an open ending leaves the reader to imagine his fate.

The actress suddenly laughed heartily even though he hadn't said anything and nothing was funny.

'Echo of the Moment': This one is, for me, the best in the book. Chinese-American Echo is living in Paris when an American acquaintance, Celine, offers her a cache of free designer clothes. When Echo presses for an explanation, the answer is macabre: the original owner – a Korean model named Mega Mun – killed herself a few days earlier. But Echo can't resist the lure of the luxurious outfits, which not only feel as though they were made for her, but also seem to have a mysterious, powerful, even supernatural effect on her life. This story is irresistibly compelling and so perfectly crafted. In fact, it's one of the best ghost stories I've read this year.

"How could anyone who owns a pair of marbled horsehair boots want to die?" she asked aloud.

I received an advance review copy of Home Remedies from the publisher through Edelweiss.

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Reading Progress

August 30, 2018 – Shelved
April 21, 2019 – Started Reading
April 22, 2019 – Finished Reading

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