Tuesday, June 21, 2011

GUEST POST: How Now, Mister Chow?

STORY: "The Evil B.B. Chow" by Steve Almond

FROM: THE EVIL B.B. CHOW AND OTHER STORIES (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2005)

BASICALLY: A woman goes on a blind date. She gets involved with the guy much too quickly, all to find out that he is a total chump. It sounds very normal and mundane, but the story is well told and amazing. AMAZING.

Hi! I'm Audrey! This is a copy of The Evil B.B. Chow and Other Stories!


While you could argue that there are better and brighter pieces in this collection of short stories, I chose the title work because I know a B.B. Chow. His real name might not roll off the tongue with such poise, but as I flipped the pages of this story, I found myself more and more engaged and more and more frantic to get to the end to see if things ended better for the narrator. (They did not.) This means if you pick up this collection, "The Evil B.B. Chow" may not be the same experience for you. In that case, I suggest you read "The Soul Molecule" or "A Happy Dream," both good stories. But the remembrances of my own B.B. Chow tied me to Almond's work immediately.

From early on, it is clear that the narrator is probably doomed. A few pages in, she says, "It's a relief, frankly, to hang out with someone [B.B. Chow] who plunges through life without the almighty force field of irony." (Cue the irony.) With dark, sinister music playing in the background, you can see Almond as Puppetmaster, manipulating this woman into a position that has no good exit. Almond sends her down a slippery slope so gradual that the narrator—not to mention, the reader—aren't aware that she is inching closer to impending ruin. I continued to hope that everything would work out—a hope strengthened when the story briefly looks up. Then everything crashes around the narrator and the truth emerges: B.B. is still in love with his ex. The transition is masterful, and possibly more important, believable.

Besides his artful story progression, Almond is excellent at dropping hints for the reader without making them obvious. It looks easy, but only because he is so good at it. When I read the story a second time, I was amazed at how early Almond starts dropping clues. On the first page, one of the secondary characters compares Chow to the villain from a Bruce Lee flick, but the narrator ignores the suggestion of evil. The allegation seems silly, and it is easy to be persuaded that it shouldn't be taken seriously. The story, unfortunately, does not feature any kung fu, but Chow does emerge in the end as a real nogoodnik.

But a review cannot be completely glowing, right? I labored under the impression that the narrator was male for a good two pages. There was nothing frankly to detour me from thinking that, and yes, it was a poor assumption on my part—a male author can write female narrators. However, it looked to be a much different story when I thought the male narrator was receiving roses in a terra cotta bowl. The attributes that we normally consider "requirements" for a narrator (name, age, life story, etc.) are not present in this tale. While it is somewhat refreshing that this piece works without those details, if the narrator was introduced as "Sandra" in the first sentence, it would have cleared up some confusion.

Also, the set-up for the narrator's showdown with Chow's ex felt a little off to me. I love the actual showdown, so I'm willing to forgive, but the next time I'm angry with someone, I hope I can walk to their approximate neighborhood and find them walking their dog at the exact moment I'd like to bust some chops.

Overall, I enjoyed this work by Steve Almond. I hope you do too!

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AUDREY reads, writes, blogs, and creates culinary masterpieces for her small family which is located for now in the midwest. Her hair is a lovely shade of pink, even when it's not. Check out more of her insights at http://pinkaudrey.blogspot.com/.