Book Review for “Lurkers” by Sandi Tan.
Summary: “The residents of Santa Claus Lane do their best to stay out of each other’s way, but desire, fury and mischief too often propel these suburban neighbors to collide. Precocious Korean American sisters Mira and Rosemary find their world rocked by a suicide, and they must fight to keep their home; a charismatic and creepy drama teacher grooms his students; a sardonic gay horror novelist finds that aging is more terrifying than any monster; and a white hippie mom and her adopted Vietnamese daughter realize that their anger binds them rather than pushes them apart. Lurkers is an homage to the rangy beauty of Los Angeles and the surprising power that we have to change the lives of those around us.”
Age: Adult; Genres: Literary, Women, Fiction; Settings: Contemporary, America – California; Other Categories: Diverse – Asian-American, #OwnVoices, Novel.
From the blurb I read on Edelweiss when I asked for this ARC, I was sure this was a collection of connected short stories. To be honest, it did feel like that to begin with. However, as I kept reading, I realized it was just that Tan breaks up her story into vignettes, each with their own title. While this gives this book a slightly disjointed feel, it also makes it more readable because she hands it to us in bite-sized pieces. As you can see from the summary above, there are really three main stories here, so you can understand my initial confusion. That said, because all of these stories involve people who live on this particularly unusually named street (in Alta Vista, California), there is a cohesion here that is both solid and tenuous at the same time.
Yeah, that sounds confusing, doesn’t it? But actually, it isn’t at all unclear. In fact, the book really does give one a sense of what a neighborhood is like in general. Most people know who their neighbors are on their street, but don’t really get to know them as people. And yet, there are times when these passing relationships lightly collide when things happen in their lives to cause one of them to reach out, even if it is only to have someone water their lawn while they’re out of town for a bit. The way Tan dances between these people and allows them these gentle bumps into each other, really rang very true for me. It made me think about the people who lived near me when I was growing up, and how seldom I had any contact with any of them, but I can recall most of those few encounters vividly. This is what impressed me the most about this book.
I also felt that Tan drew her characters really beautifully, with very distinct voices and personalities. I had no problem picturing each of them in my mind. Plus, I felt there was nothing cliched in these portrayals, and while I’m sure someone might say there were a few stereotypes here, they certainly didn’t feel overt to me, and a couple of them actually felt very atypical. In addition, Tan really knows how to build the pace, so that what felt was a light and breezy story to begin with – even humorous in spots – got increasingly complex and with some slightly darker turns that I wasn’t expecting. All of this is done in a very open writing style that is clean and almost devoid of any poetic descriptions. Despite that, I could easily see these houses and everything that happened on the street.
That said, where Tan gets graphic were in places that made me feel… well… pretty uncomfortable. Look, I’m no prude but I really wasn’t sure that some of the scenes needed to be so explicitly written. That’s not to say that they were out of place, because they fit the story perfectly. It’s just that these types of vivid details are not really to my taste, and I didn’t find them to be terribly attractive to read. Despite that, I didn’t get so turned off that I had to stop reading, so that’s in Tan’s favor here. Another thing that bothered me were the semi-paranormal inclusions. I won’t say more because… spoilers, but leave it to say that I could have done without them. This is literary fiction, after all. Finally, many readers might be unsatisfied with the abrupt ending of this book, but I actually thought it was brilliant
Obviously, contemporary fiction of this kind isn’t my usual wheelhouse, and I’m thinking that those who prefer these types of novels (and don’t mind a bit of soft porn) will probably adore this book. Even so, I found it to be really well written with interesting characters and a fascinating set of connected stories. Plus, although it is just above average in length (320 pages), I found this to be a fairly fast read (for me – only four days from start to finish), so it is obviously a very enthralling novel. This means that I can very warmly recommend it, but because of the parts that bothered me, I can only give it four stars out of five. However, I’m certain it will get higher marks from other readers.
Soho Press released/will release “Lurkers” by Sandi Tan on March 30, 2021. This book is/will be available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), Foyles, Waterstones, WHSmith, Walmart (Kobo) US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via Edelweiss.
This novel qualifies for the following reading challenges: New Release Challenge (#10).