Bookish Bitchin’: Snakes Can’t Run

Yay! Miraculously, CBruhs finished another book before 2010 was out! You guys, I’m pretty proud of myself here. Congratulations are in order. Guys?

Anyway, you can buy me a cocktail next time you see me for reading:

The cover has nothing to do with the story. Sorry, white people.

I’m a big Ed Lin fan, and I gobbled up his books Waylaid (on which Michael Kang’s film The Motel is based) and This is a Bust (Snakes Can’t Run is the sequel) like a greasy cheese slice after an all-night Wild Turkey bender.

Both This is A Bust and Snakes Can’t Run follow Chinese American cop and Vietnam vet Robert Chow, and are set in 1976 Chinatown, NYC. So you know I already like it because I live there now and am exceedingly self-absorbed. Detective Chow, himself the son of an undocumented immigrant, tries to take down snakeheads after two bodies of smuggled Chinese are found dead under the Manhattan Bridge.

I don’t know if Lin was deliberate about this, but immigration issues presented from the ’70s are particularly relevant today — as comprehensive immigration reform, the exploitation of undocumented workers, and the crackdown on “illegals” — has become one of the most pressing social and policy issues in the past couple years.

Asians also often get lost in the wider immigration debate, which tends to center around Latino and particularly Mexican migration and border enforcement. I feel it’s significant that Lin — whether intentional or not — draws parallels to the Chinese American experience and lifts up immigrant stories that are often invisible.

Aside from the sociopolitical context, Snakes Can’t Run is very engaging as an urban crime noir…and Lin is just a damn good writer. He keeps a lively pace without sacrificing development of characters, sharp dialogue, and attention to detail. His characters, especially the protagonist Robert, are flawed yet tremendously like-able, and even the “bad guys” are complex and empathize-able (I know that’s not a word. But it should be).

The sense of humor woven throughout is streetwise and snappy without being snide, and Lin depicts the harshities (see above) of Chinatown life with a frankness that avoids exoticizing or over-sentimentalization (in fact he pokes fun at people who do view Chinatown and its residents through this lens).

And it appears that Lin did his homework: the level of detail he provides on the geography of Chinatown; the political, historical, and linguistic dynamics; and the patterns of immigration lend a level of sincerity to the novel and make for an even more compelling read (I’m really interested to know more about Ed’s research process and all the time he must have put behind it).

Obviously, Snakes Can’t Run gets a big thumbs up from me. And Ed is a super nice guy and very supportive of the API arts community —  and thus deserves your support. So don’t be a cheapskate — buy the dang book instead of borrowing from the library. This is one you’ll want to show off on your shelf.

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