Spiegel & Grau // April 1, 2014
source: egalley from publisher
About the book:
A beautiful young woman appears fully dressed in an overflowing bathtub at the Frangipani Hotel in Hanoi. A jaded teenage girl in Houston befriends an older Vietnamese gentleman she discovers naked behind a dumpster. A trucker in Saigon is asked to drive a dying young man home to his village. A plump Vietnamese-American teenager is sent to her elderly grandmother in Ho Chi Minh City to lose weight, only to be lured out of the house by the wafting aroma of freshly baked bread. In these evocative and always surprising stories, the supernatural coexists with the mundane lives of characters who struggle against the burdens of the past.
Based on traditional Vietnamese folk tales told to Kupersmith by her grandmother, these fantastical, chilling, and thoroughly contemporary stories are a boldly original exploration of Vietnamese culture, addressing both the immigrant experience and the lives of those who remained behind. Lurking in the background of them all is a larger ghost—that of the Vietnam War, whose legacy continues to haunt us.
Reading the description of this book of short stories, I assumed I was in for a wild ride of scary ghost stories that would keep me up at night. What I got instead was a collection of stories that were weird and left me hanging.
The Frangipani Hotel is really a collection of strange little tales that connect to Vietnam- either by setting or character. I wouldn't classify these as ghost stories, but rather as unique folklore. The stories are indeed strange. They evoke a sense of unease and bring up more questions than answers. Both of those things are essential in the telling of a good story, but what this collection is severely lacking is closure. I assume that could be purposeful - there is still a large lack of closure for many surrounding the Vietnam War- however, I thought that most of these short stories needed a lot by way of ending than what was provided.
A few other things to note was the lack of time frame and lack of continuity. I felt adrift while reading most of the stories... was this present day Vietnam or was this the 70s's, 80's, 90's, 00's? Lack of a certain time made me feel unbalanced as I read the short stories. I had a hard time placing them in any time, but maybe that is just me. As for continuity, what I mean is this: each story was a standalone tale, but they were so disjointed that I felt like I was reading a bunch of student essays instead of a collection of stories. They didn't flow and they had no connection other than the post-war Vietnam theme (which runs deep in this book), leaving me frustrated while reading. Since they had no tie, and the ending of each story was left open to interpretation (way more than necessary, in my opinion), I felt like I was reading something unfinished. It is lacking polish.
Overall, the stories were creepy and weird. It fits the bill for a RIPX read (weird, morbid, etc), but not in the way I had imagined. Instead of scaring me while I lay in bed reading, this had me more confused and thinking "what the hell just happened?" as I read through this collection of Vietnamese folklore.
This review is part of the RIPX series for Peril of the Short Story
write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow
Image, book synopsis and information from Netgalley.com