I received Rebecca Lee's book 'Bobcat and other stories' as a Christmas present. One of the ways my boyfriend and I like to relax in the lazy time between Christmas and New Year is to lounge on the rug in front of the fireplace having mince pies and reading short stories aloud to each other. Usually they have to be quite short short stories or one of us will get dozy and fall asleep before it comes to the end. I'd started reading this book of stories and was quite eager to read some aloud to him despite most of the stories being around thirty pages. Reading them aloud really emphasized Lee's talent for writing gorgeous meaningful sentences and creating witty dialogue in social situations. Many of the stories in this book have at their centre a woman in her 20s or 30s who is often associated with a university. Only one story in the book is written from the perspective of a man. Beyond these overarching similarities the stories are all strikingly unique and many present very funny or uncomfortable situations.
In 'World Party' an academic single mother must decide the fate of a teacher who is politically motivating his students and might be dismissed from the university. In 'Bobcat' a woman decides how to handle a dinner party that includes her male colleague and his wife who she knows is being cheated on. In 'Min' a woman accompanies her male friend to Hong Kong and must sift through women applying to be his wife. In 'Slatland' a woman is determined to find out if her Romanian finance is secretly already married with children back in his native country. In 'The Banks of the Vistula' a student copies an essay out of an old book and then desperately tries to cover up her act of plagiarism. In 'Fialta' a group of ambitious young architects put on a production of 'Angels in America' for their mentor. In 'Settlers' a woman is working over time on a script for a new tv series of Wonder Woman. Many of the stories take surprising turns and reveal details of the characters' fates at startling times.
What I admired most in Rebecca Lee's writing is the way she writes about desire and relationships. If it's true that desire and sex mostly happen in the mind it's artfully demonstrated in these stories where the characters frequently play out romantic scenarios or breakups in their heads before any action happens. A small suggestion can lead the character's imagination to spin fantasies of heightened intimacy or fearful suspicion of betrayal. In dramatic scenarios she conveys characters emotional fragility and the way they guard themselves against being hurt.
Lee frequently ponders the use of language itself. I'm always sympathetic towards writers who are always aware of the limitations of words themselves. A narrator in one story observes: “This is the whole problem with words. There is so little surface area to reveal whom you might be underneath, how expansive and warm, how casual, how easygoing, how cool, and so it all comes out a little pathetic and awkward and choked.” Language is only capable of approximating what we're thinking and can often leave out the deeper feelings brewing, the personality really lurking within. When speaking to someone in person it's often more the expression on someone's face and the tone of their voice which tells you how they are really feeling rather than what they are actually saying. Of course, this is open to interpretation and can lead to misunderstandings so it's easy to feel misunderstood. At least, that's certainly how I feel in many social situations. It's part of Lee's great talent that she's able to convey what's really going on underneath the surface with her characters despite what they say and think. She's an incredibly talented writer I'd highly recommend.