10 August, 2013

The Collective by Don Lee [Sue W Central Library]

I found this book loitering shyly on the new book display and took a closer look. Its very much in the mode of narratives that take a nostalgic look at that pivotal time in life, where a gang of liked minded souls grapple with their emerging identities and how they fit in the world. Often its a delicate balance to portray that certain time of life where youthful idealism stands at loggerheads with the capitalist way of being in the world and does the trope of artist with a vision stand the test of time when the worlds exerts its inevitable pressures on the individual?

Narrated through the eyes of Eric Chou, the novel begins in the introductory classes of a new collage he has joined and quickly establishes the other two characters upon which this novel stands. The novel actually begins in real time with a punch, something sudden and shocking and then we are back experiencing first day nerves through the world view of Joshua, about to relive his tripartite friendship and the establishment of the artist's collective.

All three characters are artists in their own right and have both Asian and American identities, although what that means  and how they  choose to portray that through their work differs for each of them.  The charismatic and contentious figure of Joshua Wong is the beacon upon which the novel revolves around, his outspoken and inflammatory world views , his activism and narcissistic expectation that others follow in his wake. Experiencing the novel through the point of view of Eric, you can feel the energy of idealism, contentious debate about what it means to be Asian and how your work should "reflect" or challenge notions of identity. At the same time as Eric  fields these challenges from his friend Joshua, he is also fighting to work out his own path separately from the almost overwhelming presence of all things "Joshua".

This is a beautiful work, very focused on the collage life and how the three friends establish their friendship and forge their own separate identities as artists in their own right. It has that tinge of sadness, because you know, right from the outset this is no happily ever after story.  It has all the optimism creativity and freshness of artistic ambition but it also shows the sadness of the battle wounds inflicted by differing ambitions and a world that has narrow definitions of success. Perhaps reading the book will trigger memories for some of certain friends they had at various times in their life, and how, for a time, the world seems to exist fairly closely around the parameters of your friendship.

Title: The Collective 
Author: Don Lee
ISBN: 9780393083217
Published: 2012
Publisher: W W Norton & Co

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