Gotham Fiction teacher Jess Row has recently published The Train to Lo Wu, a collection of short stories all related to Hong Kong. Of these stories, the Tapei Times says, “They could well be the finest fiction ever to have appeared in English about the city. It's no exaggeration to say that The Train to Lo Wu is comparable in many ways with James Joyce's Dubliners, equally disillusioned stories about another city where things are not always what they seem.” Two of the stories have been selected for the Best American Short Stories series and one of the stories appears in Gotham Writers’ Workshop’s anthology Fiction Gallery.
Jess has answered some questions about his story collection at WritingClasses.com. To learn more, visit interview. And Jess will be discussing his book, as well as conducting a one-hour workshop, on February 8 at Coliseum Books in New York City. For details, visit events.
Finally, from The Train to Lo Wu, here is the opening of the short story “The Ferry”:
This is what it’s like to be a freak, Marcel thinks. He strides across the empty arrivals hall, thrilled to be standing after a sixteen-hour flight, and the woman in the pale green uniform at the passport desk tilts her head back and stares at him, openmouthed, as if he has just swooped down from the air. Her lips form a single syllable: Wah. It's like a chorus: the stewardesses, the pudgy kids in track suits, the old women in embroidered jackets look at him and say it immediately, involuntarily.That's me, he says to himself, folding back the cover of his brand-new passport, looking around for the signs to the baggage claim. I'm Mr. Wah.
Hello? A hand touches his sleeve; he flinches, and turns around. A young Chinese woman with silver spiked hair gives him a nervous half-smile, giggles, and covers her mouth. Excuse me, I wonder if you please sign autograph? She presents him with an open magazine, a picture of a basketball player in mid-flight over the basket, surrounded by Chinese characters.
But that's not me.
She looks confused. Sorry? she says. Not you?
No, he says. I'm flattered. That’s Alonzo Mourning.
You basketball player?
No, he says. I mean, sure. I play basketball. But I'm a lawyer.
Oh, she says. OK. But she remains there with the magazine folded, expectant.
So that's why I can't sign this, right? You don't want my autograph, do you?
Her eyebrows pucker. Sorry, she says. Don't understand.
You don't—for God's sake, he thinks, make the woman happy. OK, he says. Give me the pen.
Peace, he signs, Marcel Thomas. But he scrunches up the words, and thinks, she'll never know the difference.
Hong Kong is like no place he has ever imagined. Green hillsides rising out of a steel-colored sea. Rows of identical white apartment blocks that seem to sprout from low-hanging clouds, like mushrooms after rain. When he steps outside the airport terminal the air sticks to his skin, and he feels queasy, his joints rubbery, a bad taste in his mouth. He’d give anything for a shower. Thirteen thousand miles, he thinks, staring at the curving aluminum handrails on the escalator, the green-tinted glass walls of the taxi stand, as if looking for evidence of that fact, some basis for comparison. Thirteen thousand miles from San Francisco. This. And this. And me.
He falls asleep on the long ride into the city, lying across the back seat with his head propped on his garment bag. When the taxi jolts to a stop his eyes open and he sits up carefully. The car is surrounded by people rushing past, bumping up against the window, and he hears a muffled roar: voices, horns honking, music blaring.
What is it? he says. Is it a riot?
Yih ging lai dou ah, the driver croaks. Causeway Bay. Excelsior Hotel, OK?
When he steps out into the street, he finds himself staring down at a sea of black-haired heads, none higher than his chest. People moving in every direction, weaving, colliding, clutching shopping bags and mobile phones and children; no one looks up at him here. A van turns the corner with brakes squealing, and they scatter out of the way; like ants, he thinks, like cockroaches, and feels ashamed. He makes his way across the street, holding his bags shoulder-high, as if crossing a river. Without quite knowing why, he holds his breath until the hotel’s revolving doors close behind him, and releases it with
To read the rest of this story, look for The Train to Lo Wu at bn.com.
Copyright © by Jess Row. Reprinted by permission of Dell Publishing. All rights reserved.