Viet Thanh Nguyen Packs Plenty of Action and Outrage Into ‘The Committed’

The overwriting on this novel solely hardly ever bothered me. Extra typically I used to be reminded of George Balanchine’s remark that if his dancers didn’t sometimes fall onstage, they weren’t actually going for it, and of John Coltrane’s emotionally overblown notes in “A Love Supreme.”

The second half of this e-book is shaggy, shaggy, shaggy. If it’s not a complete breakdown, it’s one thing shut. The person of two minds turns into a drug seller. Due to the French Vietnamese girl he calls his aunt, who works in publishing, he has entry to left-wing French intellectuals, who’ve a powerful style for his merchandise. Infecting France with Jap medicine is his personal tidy type of payback.

It is a bookish novel. It’s the type by which a bouncer at a brothel reads Voltaire. The introduction of those French intellectuals, in addition to the narrator’s personal studying, permits him to brood over the revolutionary concepts of Frantz Fanon, Aimé Césaire, Marx, Sartre and others. In these writings, the operating canine of capitalism are walked on lengthy mental leashes.

Tragedy and comedy mix awkwardly on this novel’s second half. Nguyen will be very humorous. Overhearing his “aunt” have intercourse, for instance, he’s fairly positive she cries out “GOOAAAAALLLLLL!”

The narrator turns into concerned in gangland violence. Gangster movies, Morris Dickstein reminded us, are immigrant fables. Nguyen seems to take to coronary heart Robert Warshow’s remark that if the gangster movie tells us something, it’s that it’s harmful to be alone.

Nguyen consigns his characters to a collection of frazzled, far-fetched eventualities. Mayhem feeds mayhem. There are a number of prolonged torture scenes within the again half of this e-book that don’t work in any respect. (“You’ll be able to’t torture me,” the narrator says, in error. “I’ve lived by way of a re-education camp.”)

Nguyen doesn’t discover a tone for these scenes. They’re terrible of their method — there are rubber hoses and electrodes clamped onto nipples — however they’re exhausting to take critically. There’s a daft James Bond high quality to them. The torturers fritter their time away, lengthy sufficient for the tortured to be rescued. Doorways are kicked open with a bang; weapons blaze. You sense the writer attempting to maintain the plot frantically spinning, quite than elegantly extending his themes.

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