Posts tagged ‘Quiet as They Come’

January 5, 2011

“Quiet as They Come,” but not Timid

In my first post, I expressed some doubt that I would ever find a story worthy of positive review. Perhaps I was being shortsighted, or perhaps it’s beginner’s luck, but I found a damn good short story on the first try.

“Quiet as They Come” by Angie Chau is about Viet Tran, a US postal worker who fled from Vietnam with his wife and two daughters. The story parallels his memory of killing a man with his desire to kill Melvin, a coworker who talks sexually about Viet’s thirteen year old.

As a warning, this book describes a man’s throat being slit in detail. There is also explicit sexual violence. This story is not timid, and does not pull punches. I appreciate that, but there is nothing wrong with accepting you don’t.

The first time I read “Quiet as They Come,” I was on the treadmill listening to it through Text-to-Speech. For those of you who haven’t used the function, I figure if you still like something after hearing it through stilted monotone, it’s probably good. I enjoyed “Quiet as They Come” so much, I read it to my boyfriend, Josh, immediately.

His reaction was pretty similar. During the tense parts, I could feel Josh’s grasp on my hand tighten. “Quiet as They Come” succeeds because it begins with a very quiet man, and shows how he was once, and perhaps twice, capable of murder. Unfortunately I can’t give away more of the plot without ruining it, but Chau’s way of constructing Viet’s world is incredible. I have a hard time believing it was purely fiction.

The biggest thing keeping this story from being truly fantastic is the writing.

There is one inconsistency where the narration describes Viet killing a man with his bare hands, but when he actually remembers the incident, he uses a knife. Huang, Viet’s wife, also refers to him as Father twice. Perhaps this is cultural, but it isn’t explained, and was confusing.

Chau also uses simple, sometimes choppy sentences. This is a plus when the narration follows Viet, because it reflects his poor english (he mentally calls someone “fashion boy”), but sometimes it becomes distracting. The best example is when Viet teaches his daughter to count and knows “she’d be able to count twenty-six for each of the mouths they had to feed.”  I assume Chau meant “twenty-six, one for each of the mouths they had to feed,” but it isn’t clear.

Chau’s style suffers from useless adjectives, but it didn’t ruin the story. Both Josh and I were looking for mistakes, but we were so engrossed, we forgot to keep track. I think that is what makes this story incredible. Two writing obsessed nuts like us, and though there were mistakes, we didn’t care.

“Quiet as They Come” takes about ten minutes to read to yourself or thirty aloud. (If you’re like me and read slowly, it might take twenty.)

I highly recommend this story. 4 out of 5. Read it now and tell me what you thought in the comments.