Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Boat, by Nam Le

The Boat
by, Nam Le
Knopf, (2008)
288 pages
ISBN: 978-0307268082


Nam Le’s debut novel is, in fact, a collection of seven short stories beginning with what appears to be an autobiographical account followed by six fiction pieces. Le flexes his hefty writing muscles right from the start. His command of the language is poetic with every word providing power and stimulating all five senses. The versatility of his voice allows Le to alter his style with each story, providing the feel of seven unique authors rather than one author telling many stories. However, while the stories are beautiful to read, they often wander and I was left feeling like I was missing the last few pages of a couple of the stories. In several, the plot is so secondary to the imagery that it felt more like I was reading assignments from a literary writing class that had been cobbled together rather than a coherent story. In spite of this, his characters are so engaging and his visuals so powerful that I was willing to forgo storytelling for awhile just to enjoy the artfulness of Le’s words. I became very attached to each one of his characters - their dark personas and darker circumstances. If any of these stories had been novel-length, the storytelling would have become tiresome. However, the short story format allowed Le to produce artful prose without boring the reader. While I really enjoyed The Boat for providing a rare piece of writing that lives comfortably in the sparsely populated land between the nations of fiction and poetry, it left me both delighted and disappointed at the same time. I’m hoping that this is just the beginning of a long career by an obviously gifted writer. If you are looking for a polished, plot-driven thriller, The Boat is not going to be your cup of tea. But if you are interested in reading something visceral – something that will take you someplace you have never been before - you should give this book a try.


moonrat said...

hey, thanks for the review. this is on my fill-in-the-gaps list, and i nearly bought it this weekend, but ended up putting it down. i have to admit, your review makes it sound like more work to read than i'd hoped it would be, but i'm glad you still recommend it.

Chad Aaron Sayban said...


I really did enjoy the writing itself and it's the kind of book that you can go back and reread and get something new out of it the second time around. I just felt like the stories actually suffered a bit from too much imagery.