David Wong Louie’s short story collection Pangs of Love first came out in 1991. It’s now being re-released by the University of Washington Press with two additional pieces. Louie’s stories are captivating and deep, insightful yet puzzling.
It’s a bit intimidating to open up the foreword of a book and see that a Pulitzer Prize-winning author felt that when he read the book for the first time, he was not ready, did not fully appreciate it.
On the other hand, this also meant that I could read these stories with the understanding that I would need to come back sometime down the line, that they’d probably be worth reading again. And with a better appreciation for Louie’s place in the larger sphere of Asian American literature.
The title story, about a mother, family name Pang, and a visit with her two grown sons, is particularly moving. I often use the phrase “deeply human” to describe books and stories that I think are trying to capture some fragment of our lived experience, however messy. And that’s where Louie shines. Sometimes in impenetrable ways, but ways that are nonetheless leaving a mark.
One of the additions to this collection and the final story is also deeply affecting. Louie writes about his own experience of living with throat cancer and the experience of no longer being able to eat.
I can’t relate to the old, eater version of me. I don’t remember how it feels to be in the presence of food and crave it, want to own it, or how it feels to know its pleasure and anticipate having that pleasure again. I can’t relate to that kind of beauty anymore.”From “Eat, Memory”