By Peter Tieryas Liu
Published by Signal 8 Press
Reviewed by Jessica Patient
Peter Tieryas Liu’s Watering Heaven is a curious collection of stories, which merges reality with the fantastical.
Liu weaves Chinese folklore and magic realism through his stories and creates many stories which would entertain fans of Andrew Kaufman and Aimee Bender. In the opening story and probably my favourite story in the collection, Chronology of an Egg, a woman lays an egg each time she has sex. In Rodenticide, a film director becomes an anti-Pied Piper, leads the town’s rats to his home to protect them from extermination from the mayor and his re-election campaign.
In a world full of anxiety and detachment, the protagonists within each story are in search for the perfect relationship, job, philosophy for life. The characters aspire to do and to also be something greater but ultimately struggle to find perfection. There is a lot of humour and irony within these stories, which you need when searching to find the meaning of life.
“I’ve often wondered what it’d be like to split my brain open, unravelling my memories like noodles that’d squirm because I’d boiled them too long. Melancholy weaves her way around my noodle and I split into a million different versions of myself.” From Unreflected.
A sense of place plays an important role within Watering Heaven; with the stories either set in California and/or China. Liu successfully creates descriptions of the cityscape, the street corners, the people who inhabit these cities and the buildings makes you feel like you are also walking alongside the characters.
Isolation and detachment are major themes within the collection. There is isolation within society and/or within a different country with characters often feeling detached from China, having lived in America but with a Chinese ancestry. Many try to find ways to fit in with the norm. In Staccato, the protagonist invents a new identity on a six week trip to Beijing and picks international hotels because ‘everyone there wears a costume.’ Others have jobs either working in the games industry, films or photography that help them communicate to the rest of society and hopefully fit in with the people around them. However they either find themselves being sacked, unable to find an audience or unable to fully embrace their industry which ultimately pushes them further away from society.
“I relished my isolation, thrived in being unknown even if I was never alone in one of the most populated cities in the world.” From The Buddha of Many Parts.
Watering Heaven is a solid book and is beautifully written but ultimately the middle stories within the collection didn’t work for me. I didn’t stop reading though as I hoped that they would grip me and not let me go just like the earlier stories but they didn't and there was a lot of repetition with a similar protagonist who ends up finding and falling in love with a peculiar woman.
Watering Heaven is a mixed bag but it’s definitely worth a read if you like quirky stories.