“Naked Chinese People” is the first story in the collection California Transit by Diane Lefer, my adviser this semester at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I thought if I was going to be working with her, I should read some of her writing. California Transit won the 2005 Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction. Its eight stories tell of displaced characters, of characters on journeys, of individuals who are part of families who are part of something larger. These are stories that matter.
The first sentence of “Naked Chinese People” is “We were always finding naked Chinese people in the shower.” A few paragraphs later in this first of thirty-one unmarked sections:
“It’s in and around our weekend cabin in the desert, now equipped with a lock, that the events I’m about to narrate took place. The lock on the door is irrelevant, as are the naked Chinese.”
The Narrator is going to tell us a story, but there’s another story here too, buried under the Narrator’s words and in the seemingly random sections interspersed throughout these 14 pages. “Let me in,” one of the characters says throughout the story. At least nine threads are mixed and mingled to create this wonderfully layered story.
“At the Site Where Vision is Most Perfect” uses a distant omniscient narrator to tell the story of three individuals who make up a family. The camera/narrator follows each of these individuals but the really cool thing is that the sections are unified not by individual or place but by time.
In the opening section, Matt and Courtney are working on a float. Paragraph. “At this moment, his mother is being handcuffed. Two paragraphs. “Matt’s father is walking across campus…”
This powerful story is a perfect example of the way a story teaches you how to read it.
The ending of the last story of the collection, “The Prosperity of Cities and Desert Places,” will take your breath away:
I am walking to Los Angeles. I am speaking only for myself. I am singing: These hands are your hands, These hands are my hands… I sing and there is no one here to stop me.