On Such a Full Sea (Lee)

Chang-Rae Lee was so close. I was just about ready to promote him to my elite list of authors whose work I buy in hardback when I happened upon a free advanced reader’s copy of this, his new book.

This is easily the most disappointing novel I’ve read in years. Why Lee chose to add to the collection of dystopian novels is beyond me. This is not to say that he has to stay stuck in a certain subject or style to succeed, but this novel just does not work.

Lee can still massage words, phrases and sentences like few others. That’s not the problem here.

First, there’s a logic problem. Given the set-up – an oh-so-wise Asian child-like character, Fan, leaves the not-so-cleverly named B-Mor, in search of her Reg, her love. How would those who’ve remained behind know anything of her story, let alone enough to narrate it? After all, much is made of the fact that nothing is known or seen of her after she exits the gates.

Second, there is the character problem. Fan. In another writer’s hands, would she be considered a broad stereotype? The wise, child-like Asian of few words who is loved by everyone and dispenses bromides like tic-tacs.

Third, there is the plot problem. Having set up his world and Fan’s escape, the plot lurches along. Lee relies much too often on the end of chapter surprise to move the story along.

Finally, it quickly becomes apparent that Lee really has nothing new to offer by way of insight. He comes across as a grumpy old man lamenting, albeit parenthetically, that kids these days wear their hats sideways or backwards or something. As a piece of social commentary, this book is all too familiar.

The pages felt like they weighed 100 pounds each. Thanks to a snow day, I was able to stay up late and finish it. Lee remains on the paperback list.

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