Land of Big Numbers

Mariner: Houghton Harcourt. Feb. 2021. 256p. ISBN 9780358331544. $26; pap. ISBN 9780358272557. $15.99. F
DEBUT Writer/journalist Chen’s debut work is a collection of 10 contemporary short stories mostly set in China. The opening work, “Lulu,” limns a young, scholarly woman’s plight as narrated by her twin brother, who describes his observations of his sister’s life of activism and arrests as he follows her on social media. The title work features a young man’s initially successful first foray into stock investing on borrowed funds. All looks sunny until the market goes south, and he soon finds himself embezzling funds to make his investments until suddenly owing 150,000 yuan. In “Field Notes on a Marriage,” a young woman finally meets her mother-in-law in China following the apparent suicide of her husband after a two-year marriage. In “Beautiful Country,” a young woman from China, now living in Arizona, deals with issues pertaining to her unfaithful boyfriend. The most fanciful tale is “Flying Machine,” in which an aging farmer/tinkerer dreams of being a Party member while striving to impress others with his ambitions of building an airplane.
VERDICT Told in a straightforward journalist’s style, Chen’s stories are filled with individuals facing hardships of varying degrees, with no happy endings to be found She delves into the human psyche to ponder just how far individuals will go tolerate duress. Not light reading, but this collection may be of interest to those looking for book group titles addressing the challenges of finding success, happiness, love, and contentment.
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