Ivy Ngeow’s melting pot of post-colonial Macau is permeated by so many voices: early eighties’ pop culture references, the narrator’s part-Asian Chicago girl, Italian-American folk, a variety of lowlife sorts from all over, plus a bunch of Macau locals and expats.
Li-An, a Chicago grifter, for once in the kind of dazed mental state that she had used on wealthy old men to make her living, gets spirited off to Macau to work for Paolo. Tables turned, turntables. His new pizzeria, probably mob-funded, needs a piano player, and in return Li- An gets her own villa on Paolo’s estate, and the promise of a big salary. But she can’t get away from her old ways, and teams up with Ben to rip off Paolo. Ben is a masterful musician but a rubbish person, constantly cooking up new drug-fuelled schemes to rectify the problems from previous ones. Once the Paolo plan goes wrong (armed robbery with a snake could never go right!) adventures ensue (further spoilers removed!) Ngeow manages to make all of these both implausible and believable at the same time!
I’m a big Blondie fan, so enjoyed many of the subtler references, and as a total 80’s nerd I was often struck with the feeling that Ngeow had got something wrong. Checking up on things like the development of the fax machine and the Walkman, it of course turned out that I was the mistaken one. With one exception – Paolo gets an MRI scan after a stroke, but MRI machines were not used in hospitals till later in the 80’s. Haha, gotcha!! Naturally, the only one I got right was the physics one!
Early on, I felt that the whole narrative approach wasn’t really my thing. But without really realising it, the book got under my skin. I kept coming back to read a bit more, more and more often, until I came to finish the second half in just a few days. After more and more crimes and criminals are revealed, the story concludes quite nicely; although it does have the first denouement I’ve ever read that takes years. Not years to read, years to denoue (?!).