Wednesday, May 6, 2009

"Water Ghosts"

Born in Sacramento, California, the child of parents who met during the Vietnam War when her father was stationed in Taiwan, Shawna Yang Ryan graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, and received an M.A. from the University of California, Davis. In 2002, she was a Fulbright scholar in Taiwan. Her debut novel Water Ghosts (originally published in 2007 as Locke 1928) was a finalist for the 2008 Northern California Book Award.

She applied the “Page 69 Test” to Water Ghosts and reported the following:
This is how page 69 ends:

She creeps a little closer, as if sizing up the house, then leans against a tree. The light in the kitchen still shines. Should she wake Sofia? She and Sofia have been sneaking out for a month now, nightgowned and barefoot into the summer nights. Chloe can think of no better relief for the monotony than this scrap of brightness, running around with the wine-haired girl who was the first girl outside the brothel to—

This is what happens in the middle of page 69: Chloe is creeping around Sofia’s house, which is attached to the town church, imaging what it looks like inside, what it would be like to sneak inside and find Sofia.

Sofia, the fifteen-year-old daughter of the preacher, and Chloe, a seventeen-year-old prostitute, are in love. However, it is 1928, and neither of them have the language or consciousness to realize this. All they know is how they feel. And they spend the course of Water Ghosts pulled and pushed by this feeling, which fits into no paradigm that they know.

But the little town they live in, Locke, California, is a kind of place that finds itself outside of many paradigms. It is a town built by and for the Chinese. It is a town of bachelors. It is a town where women out number men 20:1. And it is a town where the only relief for these men separated from their wives in China are the white prostitutes who work here, despite the anti-miscegenation laws on the books all across America.

Water Ghosts is multiple love stories: Poppy, the anomalous Chinese brothel madam, is in love with Richard. Ming Wai, Richard’s abandoned wife who shows up one day on a mysterious and tattered boat—supposedly smuggled in from China—is in love with her husband. Richard, a Chinese man who has tried to forget his name, Fong Man Gum, and the place from which he came, is in love with America. He may also be in love with Chloe, the girl who came to Locke only because she was going into labor on the riverboat and this strange town of Chinese men was the most convenient stop. And Chloe, of course, is in love with Sofia.

This is how page 69 begins:

--without pasts or stories. They could be anyone.
Learn more about the book and author at Shawna Yang Ryan's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue