The Riverbank Press
review by Michael S. Chong
Terry Woo's debut novel, Banana
Boys, is about these Canadian-born hosers of Chinese
descent and the minute details of their relationships with
their loved ones. The cast includes Luke the liberal DJ
wanderer, Dave the racially-obsessed computer-dating analyst,
Mike the depressed wannabe writer, Sheldon the good-boy
engineer, and Richard the prodigal faux FOB (Fresh Off the
Boat). These are characters I've met in real life but, until
now, never in pop media. Woo gives each a strong voice, and
they grow and mature as the narrative unfolds.
I recognized shades of myself in each
of the banana boys: the parental unit face-factor, the
post-Head Tax bachelor society, the fight against prescribed
stereotypes, and the underlying search for identity. Reading Banana
Boys was like looking into a mirror and wincing. But as
Luke says to Michael, "Healing is the best revenge."
The book opens with a tragedy which
reunites the group, then flashbacks which reveal the growth of
their relationships. Each chapter is told by one of banana
boys, as they try to build lives in the Great White North.
Through the course of the novel,
Woo's characters try to attempt to answer the introductory
"You're not Chinese and
you're not white . . . what the hell are you?"
One of the major quests for the
banana boys is to find their idealized banana girl. The women
of Asian descent play supporting roles in the book, except for
Richard's sister, Shirl, whose observations open and close the
book. None of the positively-portrayed banana girls have a
banana boy boyfriend or husband. But then again, if I remember
correctly, neither did any of the women in Amy Tan's The
Joy Luck Club. Tan's novel is mentioned several times in Banana
Boys, usually with derision. Richard tells Michael he
should include Chinese mysticism in his planned novel because
it made books like Tan's bestsellers.
In fact, Banana Boys could be
seen as an answer to The Joy Luck Club and its progeny.
The structure is similar but instead of a round of mah-jong,
the banana boys, like good Canadians, sit around cherishing
the amber ambrosia of Canadian lager. Another difference is
that none of the banana boys have a successful relationship
with the opposite sex.
The older generation of Chinese
parents are also background players in the story. The fathers
are either absent, as Luke's is, or weak, as Richard sees his
depression-addled father. The mothers are stringent and
controlling, for the most part, with guilt as a major tool.
In the end, there is hope, with some
of the banana boys opening the possibility for both romance
and travel. They are finding their way away from a state of
learned helplessness. To be a man, with all the positive and
negative connotations of the title, in an emasculating
situation may be what lies beneath the peel of Terry Woo's Banana
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