Book Review: Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen

April 13, 2010

By Marilyn Chin (W.W. Norton & Company)

This isn’t to say that you can’t be a good poet and a good storyteller, but the demands of poetry and the norms of narrative prose just aren’t the same. To engage in both effectively, you must learn the craft of each. Sadly, poet Marilyn Chin’s debut “novel” underlines this lesson in red. A collection of very short pieces — mostly about a pair of mildly violent Chi-Am twins and their magical grandmother — Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen is exactly as corny-ching-chong as the title sounds, and is lacking in effective irony or genuine, tone-saving humor. Embodying the narrative unruliness of average American poetry while maintaining a flat and unmusical tone, most of the pieces exhibit a worst-of-both-worlds style. The biggest offenders are cuts that take on the cadence and characterization of fables. Chin seems to think adding sarcasm and post-industrial tropes makes these fables hip. But the mytho-updates that gave her poetry resonance are powerless to subvert a genre she helped create. A later section in the book, showcasing peripheral (and non-Asian) characters, displays promising narrative depth, but it’s too little, too late. Maybe Chin’s next attempt will talk story — or better yet, tell story — and leave off the torturing of tired clichés.

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