Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith

The shadow of the Vietnam war hangs heavy over The Frangipani Hotel, although the war itself is rarely mentioned. However, the exodus of the Vietnamese “boat people” opens the book, as the narrator asks her grandmother to tell the story of the day she left. The story begins as you’d expect, with the grandmother on a boat, but ends with the first supernatural occurrence in the book--although, Life of Pi style, we’re not really sure, as readers to what extent this is literally what happened.

SOME SPOILERS IN THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH

This is not the case throughout; As alluded to above, all but one or two of the stories in The Frangipani Hotel have explicit supernatural elements. Sometimes they’re subtle, sometimes they carry the story, but they’re always there, and after the first couple stories, I found myself waiting, during the seemingly mundane moments, for the other shoe to drop. There’s the creepiest hitchhiker ever, who lives off the life and memories of others, the girl who visits Vietnam and just might have accidentally eaten her grandmother, the old men who sit in a room every night and wait for a memory from the past to knock on their door, and so it goes. There are two stories with no obviously supernatural elements, but even there, the supernal and the mundane feel as though they are separated by a thread.

I’m not at all familiar with Vietnamese folklore, but most of the stories in the collection feel like updated versions of campfire stories, universal fears made current by transposition into modern times. If the creatures and stories Kupersmith shares aren’t myths, they feel like they are. Aside from the supernatural through-line, there are other common threads pulling the collection together--remembrance of the past, acceptance of mistakes, questions of identity, the Vietnam war, of course--so these stories, in spite of their eldritch trappings, maintain their humanity.

Highly recommended.

This book was sent to me by TLC book tours, who thought that I might enjoy it. They were right, but I never would have guessed, looking at the cover. It’s a nice image, but the bright pink lettering and fluorescent pink spine seemed to indicate a much different, much more romantic type of book. I can’t help but wonder if a book that is mostly made up of supernaturally-tinged tales building on Vietnamese folklore would have been given the same cover if it were written by a man--but I digress.

1 comment:

heathertlc said...

This is exactly the reason I love short story collections - unusual, compelling stories that will stick with me for a long time.

Thanks for being on the tour! I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today.