A dish spinner keeps spinning disks on top of sticks afloat and needs to alternate spinning each dish before one of them slows down and falls, making the performance fail. An author’s role is similar in that he or she must keep characters alive before they fall from memory, so that the reader is not forced to browse back into the book to look up who a person was. Maggie Shen King does a great job at keeping four dishes afloat: Wei-guo, May-ling, Hann and XX. We live the story through each of these characters eyes and feelings, and how they relate to each other, and that web in itself is woven neatly.
An Excess Male is a story unmistakably Chinese, even though it’s set in future. It is about romance and marriage and rebellion and politics and culture and gender roles. The moral challenges are clear, and I like that the appendix has questions for a book discussion about it.
The story starts with a slice-of-life of a ‘loser’ — an excess male — before the plot tries to move along the lines of Nineteen Eighty-Four. And it is in that transition it slows down and tries to be everything. Shen King’s story does not choose between the mundane and the heroic, it is neither and falls flat. To me it’s a grand pity that Shen King didn’t focus on just the mundane life in a non-mundane world.