Deceit and Other Possibilities (Hua)

Deceit and Other Possibilities:  Stories
Vanessa Hua, 2016
Willow Books/Aquarius Press
150 pp.

In this powerful debut collection, Vanessa Hua gives voice to immigrant families navigating a new America. Tied to their ancestral and adopted homelands in ways unimaginable in generations past, these memorable characters straddle both worlds but belong to none.

These stories shine a light on immigrant families navigating a new America, straddling cultures and continents, veering between dream and disappointment.

From a Hong Kong movie idol fleeing a sex scandal, to an obedient daughter turned Stanford pretender, from a Chinatown elder summoned to his village, to a Korean-American pastor with a secret agenda, the characters in the collection illustrate the conflict between self and society, tradition and change.

In "What We Have is What We Need," winner of The Atlantic student fiction prize, a boy from Mexico reunites with his parents in San Francisco. When he suspects his mother has found love elsewhere, he fights to keep his family together.

With insight and wit, she writes about what wounds us and what we must survive. Deceit and Other Possibilities marks the emergence of a remarkable new writer. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Vanessa Hua is an award-winning journalist and writer. Her short story collection, Deceit and Other Possibilities, received an Asian/Pacific American Award in Literature, was a finalist for a California Book Award, and O, The Oprah Magazine called it a "searing debut." Her novel, A River of Stars, is forthcoming in August, 2018.

She received a Rona Jaffe Writers' Award, and is a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. For nearly two decades, she has been writing about Asia and the diaspora, filing stories from China, Burma, Panama, South Korea, Abu Dhabi, and Ecuador.

Hua began her career at the Los Angeles Times before heading east to the Hartford Courant. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, San Francisco Magazine, Washington Post, The Atlantic, and Newsweek, among other publications.

A Bay Area native, she received the San Francisco Foundation’s James D. Phelan literary award and a Steinbeck Fellowship in Creative Writing at San Jose State University. A graduate of Stanford University and UC Riverside’s MFA program, she works and teaches at the Writers’ Grotto in San Francisco.

Achievements include the Dr. Suzanne Ahn Award for Civil Rights and Social Justice coverage; the Asian American Journalists Association’s National Journalism Award — online/broadcast, print, and radio; the Society of Professional Journalists,  the James Madison Freedom of Information Award, and the Best of the West. In 2017 she served as the Featured Literary Artist at APAture, an Asian American arts festival in San Francisco, and her short story collection is El Cerrito's pick for One City, One Book.

Her fiction has appeared in The Atlantic, ZYZZYVA,  Guernica, and elsewhere. She received an Emerging Writer Fellowship from Aspen Words,  a fellowship at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference,  and a writer's residency at Hedgebrook, among other honors. She is a contributing non-fiction editor at the Asian American Writers' Workshop's The Margins. (From the author's website.)

Book Reviews
The men, women and children in Hua's moving debut often find themselves straddling the volatile fault lines between desire and shame, decorum and rage.… She has a deep understanding of the pressure of submerged emotions and polite, face-saving deceptions. The truth comes out, sometimes explosively, sometimes in a quiet act of courage.
San Francisco Chronicle

A great writer, and subversively funny.… [W]icked absurd sense of humor…readable and human.

Exactly what we need to be reading in this country right now; and probably always. Zeroing in on a myriad of different immigration stories.… [T]his collection is funny and sad, quick-witted and thought provoking.

Heart-wrenching, implacable.… [T]he characters within feel so human and in need of being heard.… Hua draws the reader in with her power of perception.
Huffington Post


Rare and generous.
Bitch Magazine

An intriguing collection.… [E]ach of her protagonists is never quite grounded, caught between multiple cultures and countries. Each hides beneath layers of deceit, clinging to lies that enable survival.… Hua is a writer to watch.


Discussion Questions
1. Deceit and Other Possibilities is, as the title suggests, a short story collection about secrets and lies, about what remains hidden. In "Line, Please," Kingsway Lee is a Hong Kong movie star who flees scandal by retreating to his hometown in the San Francisco Bay Area. Do you agree or disagree with how he tries to explain to his mother what happened? "I understand she has resigned herself to such behavior from her irredeemable son," he says. "I envy my nephew’s bright blank future." Does he think he’s capable of changing?

2. In "Loaves and Fishes," Prophet Alex Chan seeks redemption after the apocalypse he predicted failed to come to pass. He returns to making up prophecies to the passenger sitting beside him on the airplane. "Even the most godless youth were hungry for miracles that might rescue them from a future that held melting ice caps, polluted air, chool shootings, a sinking economy, zombies and vampires bursting through their frontdoors." Is deception ever justified, if in pursuit of a higher cause, or does that it inevitably corrupt?

3. In "What We Have is What We Need" presents the image of a seemingly united family: a father slips his arm around a mother’s waist, while their son, Lalo, watches. "From behind, they looked happy," Lalo says. "But you can never see all angles at once." How does fiction offer the opportunity to explore otherwise invisible angles of the human experience?

4. "For What They Shared" pits two women against each other: Lin, a Chinese immigrant, and Aileen, an American-born Chinese, camping beside each other in the redwoods. "Traitor, Lin wanted to tell her. You will always be Chinese. You are not one of them." In what ways are the two women alike, in what ways are they different, and how does that subvert the notion that communities are monolithic?

5. In "The Responsibility of Deceit," Calvin has not yet come out to his immigrant Chinese parents. "As much as I concealed from my parents, I needed them to be there to hide from. Worse than any rejection would be their absence from my life." Do you have a secret you’ve kept from your parents, and if you did eventually decide to tell them, why did you? How did it impact your relationship, for better or for worse?

6. "Accepted" illustrates conflict between generations, featuring a high school graduate struggling with the weight of expectations placed upon her by her immigrant parents. "I was supposed to become a doctor," Elaine Park says, "and buy my parents a sedan and a house in a gated community." Discuss the tension between generations, and how that may be heightened if there are gaps in language and culture?

7. In "The Shot," Sam Radulovich has lost ties to his father’s family, but "never lost the longing for that which made him different." He memorizes curse words and sips traditional plum brandy, but do these actions bring him closer to Serbian culture? Or is he looking for something that he can never find—a sense of belonging? Do you think about your ancestral culture, and in what ways, if any, do you wish you knew more?

8. In "The Older the Ginger," Old Wu muses: "Who didn’t want a rich American uncle,who filled you with a sense of possibility, prosperity close enough to touch? In your dreams, you escaped the prison of your circumstances and danced on the streets paved with gold." Though Old Wu is willing to maintain the illusion of American possibility for others, he himself has grown cynical. Are notions of the American Dream shifting, compared to the past? In what ways is this country still a land of possibility?

9. In "Harte Lake," Anna Murata blames her husband for not teaching her how to build a fire. "She had been a poor student, following without understanding or memorizing. She hated him for undermining her. For acting like he would always be there." What is the root of her anger towards him? How does gender, race, and history shape their relationship?

10. In "The Deal," Pastor David Noh never tells his wife that he used to gamble. "Keeping the secret allowed him to cherish certain memories, jewels he could admire in private rather than submit for public reckoning. God already knew." How do you feel about this paradox? Does he seem like a reliable narrator, and to what degree do you sympathize with him, or do you feel repelled?

(Questions courtesy of the author.)

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