15 June 17 | Chad W. Post

In case you missed it, last week Can Xue was profiled in the New Yorker. This is so well-deserved—Can Xue is a treasure—and proof positive that the New Yorker has good literary taste. (Especially on the Page Turner blog.)

The only other thing I want to say is that the author of this piece, Evan James, discovered Can Xue when a reading copy of Frontier arrived at Three Lives, where he works as a bookseller. Intrigued by the cover, he picked it up and fell into Can Xue’s mesmerizing, layered, world. Then he pitched this piece, read everything, talked to everyone, and wrote a great article about a giant of world literature. Booksellers are the best.

That’s all I have to say, so here’s a longish quote:

Can Xue takes pride in her total commitment to what some have described as “difficult” literature. “Everyone knows the experiment in fiction I have been conducting for over thirty years has been an experiment without an escape route,” she recently wrote, in “A Short Piece on Experimental Fiction.” I was reminded of this characteristic statement while reading Frontier, in which one senses the rigorous forward motion of Can Xue’s technique forming her vision as the narrative develops. One of the most intriguing relationships in the book is between Liujin and a dark-skinned man from Africa who goes by the name of Ying and who works at the Design Institute. From one of their early encounters—a walk around the landscape by the Institute, during which they talk about subjects including snakes, Liujin’s mother, and “a rag-picker who’s been circling around this office building for more than ten years”—I sensed an affection in their often gnomic exchanges, a mutual fascination and tenderness. Ying’s connection to Africa ignites Liujin’s imagination; she is filled with “complicated feelings.” But Can Xue is soon dancing on to other characters, and when Liujin next encounters Ying, a few years have apparently passed. He looks “older and a little humpbacked,” and the two talk as reunited friends. The scene, like many others in Frontier, unfolds in a strange and intimate way: Ying’s voice is “as soft and pleasant as before,” but his conversation feels abstracted. (“Ever since the old director died, work has turned into a hobby for everyone. This institute of ours hasn’t had a leader for a long time: it’s more a concept that’s leading us,” he says.) Ying appears again, briefly, near the end of the book, but none of the relationship’s ambiguity is resolved. By that point in the novel, any conventional resolution would have felt like a betrayal anyway. The open-endedness of Frontier, its sprawling tapestry of intricately interconnected phenomena, becomes its own pleasure, which also feels like a surrender.

Buy a copy of Frontier from your favorite local bookshop or online retailer, or directly from Open Letter.


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