W.W. Norton & Company, $26.95, 296 pages, ISBN 978-0-393-07780-3
Noir fiction “Emphasizes the human urge toward self-destruction,” and “Focuses on the villain,” according to crime fiction writers James Ellroy and Otto Penzler. Its about the down-and-outers, the losers, the hopeless, unforgiven and abandoned among us who often spend their entire literary lives trapped in self-imposed prisons of the mind. These characters—who attract and repel the reader—are endlessly fascinating at the same time, because they’re altogether alien to the rest of us who live ordinary lives. Literature, crime fiction in particular, allows us to peek into what would otherwise be unknown, forbidden or illegal lifestyles and experience them from the comfort of our favorite reading spot . . . and this weeks MBR No 219 does exactly that.
Dragonfish, by Vu Tran is an awesome first novel by a creative writing professor at the University of Chicago who was born in Saigon, Vietnam and grew up in Oklahoma. It’s an intricate tale of obsession and loss. It’s also a twisted story that tells of the immigrant experience; the struggle to survive and establish a new home in a foreign landscape controlled by entrenched crime lords from the old country.
In Dragonfish, an Oakland, California cop named Robert Ruen still longs for his ex-wife Suzy. She’s the complicated, often enigmatic Vietnamese immigrant who disappeared and divorced him two years ago after he hit her during a brief and violent argument. Now she’s remarried—to a Vietnamese gambler and crime boss named Sonny—and living in Las Vegas . . . or was until she disappeared a second time after another argument and personal injury. Now, Sonny is blackmailing Ruen into using his cop contacts and skills to find Suzy. The hunt takes him through the seamy gambling places and strip joints of the Vegas scene, all the while pursued by thugs and Sonny’s sadistic son named Junior. It turns into a journey of discovery as the lovesick cop gradually uncovers the other life his ex-wife kept from him, the man she longs for, the daughter he never knew she had, and abandoned twenty-some years ago. The plot is deep, the writing exquisite and the emotional pull gut-wrenching. It’s a novel that speaks from and to the heart, making it one the reader will long remember. Vu Tran is a talented, up-and-coming author to keep an eye on . . . one I think is destined for greatness.