Excerpt from Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So , plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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by Anthony Veasna So

Afterparties by Anthony Veasna  So X
Afterparties by Anthony Veasna  So
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2021, 272 pages
    Jun 7, 2022, 288 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts
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The man is now on top of the woman. He screams, "You've betrayed me." He punches her face. The sisters shut their eyes and wish for the man to go away, and the woman, too. They wish this couple had never set foot in Chuck's Donuts, and they keep their eyes closed, holding each other, until suddenly they hear a loud blow, then another, followed by a dull thud.

Their eyes flick open to find their mother helping the woman sit upright. On the ground lies a cast-iron pan, the one that's used when the rare customer orders an egg sandwich, and beside it, unconscious, the man, blood leaking from his head. Brushing hair out of the woman's face, their mother consoles this stranger. Their mother and the woman remain like this for a moment, neither of them acknowledging the man on the ground.

Still seated in the booth with Kayley clutching her, Tevy thinks about the signs, all the signs there have been not to trust this man. She looks down at the ground, at the blood seeping onto the floor, how the color almost matches the red laminate of the countertops. She wonders if the man, in the unconscious layers of his mind, still feels Chinese.

Then Sothy asks the woman, "Are you okay?"

But the woman, struggling to stand up, just looks at her husband.

Again, Sothy asks, "Are you okay?"

"Fuck," the woman says, shaking her head. "Fuck, fuck, fuck."

"It's all right," Sothy says, reaching to touch her, but the woman is already rushing out the door.

Emotion drains out of Sothy's face. She is stunned by this latest abandonment, speechless, and so is Tevy, but Kayley calls after the woman, yelling, even though it's too late, "You can't just leave!"

And then Sothy bursts into laughter. She knows that this isn't the appropriate response, that it will leave her daughters more disturbed, just as she knows that there are so many present liabilities—for instance, the fact that she has severely injured one of her own customers, and not even to protect her children from a vicious gangster. But she can't stop laughing. She can't stop thinking of the absurdity of this situation, how if she were in the woman's shoes she also would have fled.

Finally, Sothy calms herself. "Help me clean this up," she says, facing her daughters, giving the slightest of nods toward the man on the ground, as though he were any other mess. "Customers can't see blood so close to the donuts."

BOTH SOTHY AND TEVY AGREE that Kayley is too young to handle blood, so while her mother and sister prop the man up against his booth and begin cleaning the floors, Kayley calls 911 from behind the counter. She tells the operator that the man is unconscious, that he's taken a hit to the head, and then recites the address of Chuck's Donuts.

"You're very close to the hospital," the operator responds. "Can't you take him over yourself?"

Kayley hangs up and says, "We should drive him to the hospital ourselves." Then, watching her mother and sister, she asks, "Aren't we supposed to not, you know, mess with a crime scene?"

And Sothy answers sternly, "We didn't kill him."

Balancing herself against the donut display case, Kayley watches her mother and sister mop the floor, the man's blood dissolving into pink suds of soap and then into nothing. She thinks about her father. She wants to know whether he ever hit her mother, and if so, whether her mother ever hit him back, and whether that's the reason her mother so naturally came to the woman's defense. As Tevy wipes away the last trails of red, she, too, thinks of their father, but she recognizes that even if their father had been violent with their mother it wouldn't answer, fully, any questions concerning her parents' relationship. What concerns Tevy more is the validity of the idea that every Khmer woman—or just every woman—has to deal with someone like their father, and what the outcome is of this patient, or desperate, dealing. Can the very act of enduring result in wounds that bleed into a person's thoughts, Tevy wonders, distorting how that person experiences the world? Only Sothy's mind stays free of her daughters' father. She considers instead the woman—whether her swollen eye and bruises will heal completely, whether she has anyone to care for her. Sothy pities the woman. Even though she's afraid that the man will now sue her, that the police will not believe her side of the story, she feels grateful that she is not the woman. She understands, more than ever, how lucky she is to have rid her family of her ex-husband's presence.

Excerpted from Afterparties by Anthony Veasna So . Copyright © 2021 by Anthony Veasna So . Excerpted by permission of Ecco. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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