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Triads Hardcover – August 1, 2004
"Neverworld Wake" by Marisha Pessl
Read the absorbing new psychological suspense thriller from acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Marisha Pessl. Learn more
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From Publishers Weekly
Brite (Lost Souls) and Faust (Control Freak) combine tragedy, history, a touch of the supernatural, a bit of soap opera and, finally, hope in a surprisingly tender, if violent and sexually explicit trio of gracefully written, interwoven tales. In part one, set in 1937 Hong Kong, Ji Fung, who's in love with Lin Bai, the Peking Opera School's star pupil, kills the troupe's sadistic Master Lau, who's been raping Lin nightly. The boys flee and enter the decadent demimonde disguised as girls, eventually ending up in Shanghai at the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War. In part two, set in 1945 Los Angeles, Ji Fung, now named Jimmy Lee, is attracted to female impersonator Victor See, who reminds him of Lin Bai, but Victor is a doubly lost soul as a Japanese-American pretending to be Chinese in Japan-hating wartime L.A. Meanwhile, butch detective novelist Nan Blake pursues a manipulative starlet who believes she's a man. Despite buckets of blood and the possibility of a vengeful ghost, the true horror lies in homophobia and anti-Asian bigotry. In the short final section, set in a relatively tolerant, present-day Hollywood, hunky martial artist Jake Ryan falls for a half-pearl of the orient, Miki, but it takes a ghost and a near-death-experience to get him out of the closet. If boy-boy or girl-girl isn't your cup of tea, then take a pass. But broad-minded genre fans won't find a better brew. FYI:The first part of Triads appeared originally in Douglas E. Winter's 1997 anthology, Revelations.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
In 1937, two boys, lovers, escape the Peking Opera, only to find that life within it, though cruel, was also too sheltered to prepare them for the brutal streets of Hong Kong, on which they are nearly killed on their first night of freedom. Fortunately, a wealthy playboy rescues them, and they briefly enjoy luxury before the Japanese bomb China, dealing the lovers an unendurable blow. Cut to Hollywood in 1945; to Nan, a tough lesbian writer in love with a beautiful, straight starlet; and to a tragic, bloody murder. Why is that stuntman--the Chinese guy, Jimmy-- so intent on helping Nan? Finally, nearer the present, meet gorgeous, outrageously talented Jake Ryan, terrified that the studio will discover he is gay, who keeps seeing the ghost of an old Chinese guy. Brite and Faust's trio of bright, edgy, seemingly discrete stories are actually interwoven by red threads of passion and violence and the spirit of one quiet Chinese man. Paula Luedtke
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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In Triads, the characters exist in a variety of times and places, and Brite and Faust do a flawless job at creating a strong sense of both. Whether they are setting the scene with a lush paragraph describing the streets of Shanghai, or just slipping in additional details about time-and-place-appropriate styles and objects, you never forget exactly where the characters are. I feel like each story wouldn't have ended quite the same if not for the influence of the specific time period and setting, and that's just how these kind of stories should be written. The stories themselves are very compelling, if a bit contrived in some places. The first story is the most original and exciting, but the other two stories aren't as predictable as the might seem.
Unfortunately, the characters don't stand out quite as well as they should have against such elaborate plots and backgrounds. The main characters are three-dimensional enough, at least to the point that I was able to sympathize with and relate to them, but the secondary characters are mostly based off of stereotypes that are overused even within the confines of this book. I mean, there are so many times that an actor/director turns out to be corrupt or abusive that I was beginning to feel bad for all the decent people in Hollywood that are left out of this story in favor of a plot device that gets tired after the first few uses. And that's just one example of all the clichés in this book.
Still, I enjoyed Triads enough to not regret buying it. If you read the first paragraph of this review and thought the stories sounded really interesting, or if you're on a quest for something new and different to read, then this is a good book to choose. It even has two bonus stories at the end that teach you more about the characters' dark pasts. But to anyone else, if the basic plot doesn't grab your attention, then you should probably pass it up for something better.
Brite and Faust present three tales revolving around Ji Fung, later known as Jimmy Lee, a Hong Kong orphan with a troubled past. In the first, his mother has taken him to the Peking Opera and abandoned him to the predations of Master Lau, who creates the finest opera in Asia, but at a terrible price to his charges. Ji Fung and his best friend, Li Bai, find there is more to their feelings than friendship, but in order to express their love, they need to escape Master Lau's perversions. Taken in by a half-French decadent, Ji Fung and Lin Bai find, after getting away from the troupe, that life on the outside can be even more complicated. The second and third stories feature Jimmy/Ji Fung in a less central capacity, but he's still there. The protagonist of the second is Nan Blake, a dime-novel writer with the nom de plume Blake Blackline who finds herself embroiled in a web of corruption and murder. In the third, Jimmy is dying in the hospital, Blake is long-retired, and a rising, but closeted, gay action star has taken a room in Blake's house. When he meets the man of his dreams, will he sacrifice the relationship for his career or vice-versa?
Brite has always been very good at drawing characters, and has improved over the years as she's made the transition from genre horror to human drama; Faust adds the perfect touch of dime-novel noir atmosphere, and the result is a good little book. I'm not quite as fond of it as I am of the works of the two authors on their own, but it's certainly worth your time. ***
Given the authors, you probably anticipate the existence of homosexuality in Triads, and you would be right in doing so. That barely begins to scratch the surface, however. This book has more homosexual encounters than should even fit in less than 200 pages: you've got men loving men, men loving boys, boys loving boys, women loving women and one woman loving another woman in the guise of a man. There are cross-dressers galore, including children. You can rarely go three pages without coming up on another secret tryst between anything under the sun. If this kind of explicit subject matter bothers you the least little bit, the odds are pretty good that you will toss Triads away in disgust very early on.
Those who do read the short novel (even those who -- like me -- were quite uncomfortable the whole way through) will find themselves looking back on a tale that emerges with a beauty all its own and a capability to move the reader on several occasions. This book actually started out as a short story published in Douglas E. Winter's anthology Revelations, and that original story is easily the most gripping and poignant link in Triads' three-link chain. An additional two stories, tied to the first one, were added to produce this short novel.
The saga begins in Hong Kong in the year 1937. A boy named Ji Fung is sold to an opera house by his mother, splintering the boy from his well-to-do father. Master Lau is a cruel teacher who succeeds in training all of his boys to perform, and perhaps no lad is more mistreated than Lin Bai. Lin Bai always plays the lead female role in the operas, and Ji Fung comes to love his only friend in a special way. Lin Bai finally puts a stop to his master's abuse, and the two lads escape the opera house. They are soon taken in by a wealthy man who enjoys watching the lads "perform," and both boys start dressing in women's clothes to avoid detection by the police. Ji Fung almost miraculously finds his way to his long-lost uncle, who tells him the true horrors that came about on the night Ji Fung disappeared and sends his nephew on a special, Triad-related (criminal) mission to Shanghai. Ji Fung and his two friends make the trip, only to find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time as the Sino-Japanese War heats up -- big-time. As bad as Ji Fung's life was up until this point, much deeper tragedy sinks its claws into his soul now.
The novel then jumps ahead to 1945 Hollywood, where Ji Fung has come to seek a career in the movies. Here we meet novelist and scriptwriter Nan Blake, whose professional name and public persona is that of Blake Blackline, a man. She falls head over heels with a seemingly innocent young starlet, from whom she goes to great lengths to hide her true female identity. Ji Fung, now known as Jimmy, sees shades of Lin Bai in a burlesque singer but eventually finds nothing but the same old tragedy. All of these characters come together in a miasma of gory murder, exacerbating the tragedy of Ji Fung. Then we skip ahead to the present day to meet Jake Ryan, an actor on the brink of success who is tormented by his private homosexual feelings. The story takes something of a spiritual or otherworldly turn at this juncture, as a mysterious Chinaman seems to haunt Ryan's vision as he tries to decide between a life of happiness with a man he truly loves or a career that could be ruined by public knowledge of his homosexuality.
While the three stories differ dramatically in terms of setting (both time and place), characters and situations, they come together to tell the life story of Ji Fung. It is a tragic tale of mistreatment, confusing gender and sexuality, pain, suffering, death and -- just perhaps -- love and release in the end. It seems to me all of this could have been achieved without tossing sexual perversions on every other page, but when you step back and look at Triads in an objective way, you see a well-crafted tale that succeeds admirably in communicating the themes the authors wanted to convey.