In a harrowing novel that plucks a devoted, nearly forty-year-old son from his mother's side in America to the unfamiliar alleys of the Taiwanese criminal underground, Lin delivers a tale that is unpredictable and filled with unnamed menace. Emerson Chang, the dutiful son, has always done his best, attentive to his mother as the years pass, a woman inordinately proud of her motel, the Remada, her livelihood as an immigrant. A reliable employee faithfully devoted to his mother's needs, Emerson has met every demand, except one, meeting for dinner and a scolding every week. But so far, this bachelor has not found "one of our kind" to marry, all his mother requires for contentment. Meanwhile, younger brother, Little P, has gone back to Taipei, where he has remained for the last ten years, avoiding contact with his family in America. After his mother's sudden death, a grieving Emerson receives even more troubling news: the Remada has been left exclusively to Little P, the favorite son.
Emerson is to inherit a piece of property in his parent's home country, a former residence. Further, he is to deliver her ashes to Little P in Taipei for a proper burial. Motel documents in hand, a still-shocked son travels to meet his younger brother, with no idea how the boy might have changed. Their reunion is not propitious, Little P holding a knife at Emerson's throat until he realizes who he is. Little P's face is battered, ragged stitches across his face from a recent altercation, a sign that life might not be as stable as Emerson's years in America. With no language skills save English, Emerson depends on Little P for translation as he meets a variety of shady cousins and a mute old uncle who owns the karaoke bar where Little P works, the club shabby and filled with rowdy groups, gambling, drinking, all of this environment confusing to Emerson as he vainly tries to make a connection with Little P other than a financial transaction. But Little P will not be pinned down, hinting at dark and unforgivable deeds and current danger, always on the move and desperate for money, a world of shadows and lies.
Lin's Taipei is a maze of chattering crowds and unpredictable events, a volatile political landscape and the pervasive corruption of the criminal underground, of which Little P seems to be such a vital part. Clutching his mother's ashes, Emerson bravely follows Little P from one violence-fraught situation to another, appealing to his brother's dormant emotions while Little P evades and dissembles. A charming, if clumsy romanticist, Emerson meets two women on his adventure, the lovely Grace and the foul-mouthed, good-natured Angel, neither of which can solve his particular predicament. In over his head, Emerson accidentally accrues a huge gambling debt, pursued by his cousin, Poison, who demands money or revenge- on Little P, Grace, or Angel, even Emerson if need be. As the danger ratchets up, so does Emerson's determination to help his brother and reclaim their relationship. With brilliant precision, Lin sets the stage for a chilling confrontation, like a train wreck, ugly facts are revealed to a stunned Emerson, an unwelcome acknowledgment of a world filled with greed, ambition and betrayal. Freed from fear, Emerson embraces this truth with renewed will: "Living: that was the only kind of immortality there was." Luan Gaines/2008.