Aaron's Reviews > Home Remedies

Home Remedies by Xuan Juliana Wang
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it was amazing

One of my favorite sensations as a reader is stumbling across something perfect and unexpected, something you weren't looking for and never knew you needed, and you come away feeling richer for the experience. Home Remedies does that, repeatedly, with each strange little slice of life feeling like a concentrated burst of observation, a window into a truly strange stranger's head, rendering a consistently alien experience somehow relatable, while your brain marinates in a stew of subtle details that feel right even when you're not entirely sure what they all mean.

What we have here, in simple terms, is a collection of short stories written by a Chinese-American author. We consistently see tales of emigration--families, children, students, hustlers, and others leaving China to restart their lives in the United States--and what that feels like for all involved. We also see China from a perspective few Americans could conjure on their own, the kind of perspective born from some kind of lived experience--whether first-hand or absorbed from family and friends, I'm not entirely sure, but it certainly feels real as you read. As I dug deeper into the book, I felt the weight of Chinese culture looming in the background, in ways I hadn't expected and ways I can't really articulate in a short review.

I realize as I read all that back it sounds like I'm describing a travelogue, but Home Remedies isn't that at all. It's a swirl of characters built out of bundled observations, little bursts of thought and feeling, all perfectly rendered, somehow cohering into a series of tiny stories, but stories built on the backs of human-sized lives, if that makes sense. Xuan Juliana Wang experiments with form several times throughout the book, sometimes employing impressionistic lists but just as often keeping things straightforward on the structural front only to swerve into magical realism to keep us on our toes. It's a cop-out to point to Raymond Carver when describing good short fiction, but I think there's a reasonable parallel here to the extent Wang is able to do so much with so little, to leave only a few threads on the page but lace those threads with mystique, heart, detachment, longing, unease, humor, millennial ennui, i.e., the stuff of life. Her characters are traced in electric prose but carved in relief, silhouettes painted on the page with just enough detail, just enough narrative to make them indelible and intoxicating, relatable but ultimately unknowable. It's a hell of a trick, and no accident. Wang is confident, subtle, and remarkably consistent, toying with expectations, cleanly sidestepping cliches, all that good stuff.

If I have a criticism, it's that I wish this book were longer. I couldn't put it down, and I probably read it faster than I should have. Before I knew it the end was upon me, and I was bummed, left yearning and bereft. Home Remedies gets my highest recommendation for short fiction; run don't walk, do the right thing, yadda yadda.
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Reading Progress

March 3, 2019 – Shelved
March 4, 2019 – Started Reading
March 18, 2019 – Finished Reading

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