After her story,“Stargazing,” I read all of ND Chan’s poetry to the tune of Oasis’ “Wonderwall.”
“Stargazing” is my favorite story in her collection of flash fiction and poetry, Saved as Draft: Stories of Self-Discovery Through Letters & Notes. Set during her morning commute through New York City’s Grand Central Station, a trip to the information booth reminds her of the trips she took with an ex-girlfriend a decade ago. It’s the constellations painted on the station’s ceiling that must have inspired the title of this story about a reckless friend who believed, “stars burn the brightest before they disappear.”
The song “Wonderwall” plays before she leaves the station. She must have her earbuds on like the thousand others passing under the stars on their daily commute. According to Wikipedia, Noel Gallagher wrote “Wonderwall” about an imaginary friend “who’s gonna come and save you from yourself.” Wikipedia says it was initially thought to be about his ex-wife but Gallagher has denied this and insisted it is about an imaginary friend. Wikipedia also says the original title of the song was “Wishing Stone.”
I pieced together the details from her story, “Wonderwall’s lyrics, and what Wikipedia had to say about its meaning, and found a familiar sensation. The feeling that I’m in a movie and what I’m hearing over my headphones is the soundtrack to the scene I’m in right now. The scene where I’m doing something quite ordinary like going to work and then suddenly experience something very extraordinary like getting caught up in a chase scene or bumping into the character intended to be my love interest later on.
It’s feeling like it isn’t just me that appeals to me most about ND Chan’s stories in Saved as Draft. In “Hands of Death,” she obsesses over the consequences of family members dying. I go through seven minutes of panic every time someone in my family is more than 10 minutes late. In “Out of Focus,” she rationalizes staying in a relationship without “butterflies or sparks.” I’ve stayed in relationships longer than I should because I just wanted to know someone was there even if only in body. There are other instances when I’ve quietly said to myself, “yes, I’ve been there too.” Scenes scattered throughout her book. But it’s these three stories where the connection is the strongest and most obvious.
When the title of the collection is Saved as Draft, it’s expected that the stories feel a little rough and unfinished. I imagine ND rummaging through her mother’s drawers in “Clue,” not sure of what she is looking for but motivated by “an insatiable desire to find out more.” Like her mother’s designer coats, ND has organized her stories thematically. Each section of her collection begins with the greeting “Dear” — Dear Reader, Dear China, Dear Mom, Dear Father, etc. — as if addressed to someone she either misses or maybe not so close with. “Dear” carries a certain air of formality in this day and age of text and email where “Hi” seems to be greeting enough. “Stargazing” appears in the section, Dear Ex-Lover 1. It might also be my favorite selection of stories with Dear Ex-Lover 2 an Dear Father, second and third.
I wonder if her mother ever suspected ND of going through her things? Or if ND ever worried about being caught? Did she ever go back and find something new? As a reader, I wasn’t worried about being caught. ND has invited me to go through her drawers. However, even though I wasn’t rushing to finish before ND came home, at the end of the book I was still left feeling like ND in “Clue.”
And some of the things I found seemed out of place and uncharacteristic. Among the weakest stories in her book is “White Girls.” It relays familiar Asian American stories of bullying, race, culture, and identity. In a different closet or room it might have offered a significant clue but in this room it just seems contrived, as if it was written to fulfill some unspoken rule that Asian American authors must included at least one story about cultural differences and identity in their books.
Up until this point, race has not been mentioned beyond her telling us that her stepfather was Caucasian. “White Girls” might have made sense if ND had written a letter to her step father. How did he treat her knowing that she came along as a part of a package (mother and daughter)? Was he aware that his new girlfriend had a daughter in China? Was her half-brother more Caucasian looking? Did he struggle like she did? How did her maternal grandparents treat him or her other sisters?
“White Girls” might have made sense to me if race and culture were brought up in Dear Ex-Lover 1 or 2. While we’re on the topic, were they white girls too? If they were, did she at any point in the relationships feel fetishized? If they were white girls too, didn’t she date Asians? She couldn’t have been the only Asian lesbian in the five boroughs.
Staying true to the notion of this being a collection of drafts, I think “White Girls” is a book on its own. It think what is presented in Saved as Draft works well as drafts with the potential to be expanded and more immersive with more pictures to accompany the poems I now sing to “Wonderwall.”