In Can Xue’s extraordinary book, we encounter a full assemblage of husbands, wives, and lovers. Entwined in complicated, often tortuous relationships, these characters step into each other’s fantasies, carrying on conversations that are “forever guessing games.” Their journeys reveal the deepest realms of human desire, figured in Can Xue’s vision of snakes and wasps, crows, cats, mice, earthquakes, and landslides. In dive bars and twisted city streets, on deserts and snowcapped mountains, the author creates an extreme world where every character “is driving death away with a singular performance.”
Who is the last lover? The novel is bursting with vividly drawn characters. Among them are Joe, sales manager of a clothing company in an unnamed Western country, and his wife, Maria, who conducts mystical experiments with the household’s cats and rosebushes. Joe’s customer Reagan is having an affair with Ida, a worker at his rubber plantation, while clothing-store owner Vincent runs away from his wife in pursuit of a woman in black who disappears over and over again. By the novel’s end, we have accompanied these characters on a long march, a naive, helpless, and forsaken search for love, because there are just some things that can’t be stopped—or helped.