Further News of Defeat is a short story published in the most recent issue of The New England Review. You can read it without charge by clicking on the link here. This review is the first in our new monthly short story feature in which we quickly introduce exciting new authors to our readers by discussing and linking to a single short story.
Further News of Defeat tells what happens to the people of a small Chinese village during the Japanese occupation. In a remarkable fusion of message and style, this is not an especially melodramatic or frightening story. It opens with an exhausted soldier bringing news that the capital of their province has fallen. When asked what they should do, the soldier replies that he doesn’t know and that his lieutenant never tells him anything. The villagers respond that this is a strange and useless message and help him on his way. Their only emotional response seems to be mild annoyance. This under-reaction continues, but it never feels artificial or surreal. It feels like the stoicism of very hard working people who do what they can and instinctively ignore everything else.
Wang’s simplistic approach is aided by the fact that the two main characters are a nine year old girl and a hot headed young man. We see the little girl’s fascination with one of the soldiers, based in large part on his funny hat. We learn that the young man is “sickened” not by what has happened to his country but by “the noise of the soldiers’ high-pitched salutes and their radio static.” We are surrounded by the chores and objects of their daily lives, their goats, their sorghum fields, the ducks the little girl’s mother has clumsily stitched onto her jacket. At the story’s climax the little girl “wondered if she was seeing all of this through the eyes of her own ghost. She wondered if she were also dead, like the other duck that had once been on her coat before she pulled it off slowly, month after month. Why had she done that? Why couldn’t she have resisted the urge to pull at the thread and just let it be?” This is a powerful story conveyed in the humblest of terms.
Wang is a young man with a great deal of talent. His collection, also titled Further News of Defeat, was a 2013 St. Lawrence Book Award, but has not yet been published. Read his story, and see if you agree with me that this is a writer to watch.