Vertical Motion

by Can Xue

Other authorsKaren Gernant (Translator), Chen Zeping (Translator)
Paperback, 2011





Open Letter, (2011)


"There's a new world master among us, and her name is Can Xue."--Robert Coover Two young girls sneak onto the grounds of a hospital, where they find a disturbing moment of silence in a rose garden. A couple grows a plant that blooms underground, invisibly, to their long-time neighbor's consternation. A cat worries about its sleepwalking owner, who receives a mysterious visitor while he's asleep. After a ten-year absence, a young man visits his uncle, on the twenty-fourth floor of a high-rise that is floating in the air, while his ugly cousin hesitates on the stairs . .. Can Xue is a master of the dreamscape, crafting stories that inhabit the space where fantasy and reality, time and timelessness, the quotidian and the extraordinary, meet. The stories in this striking and lyrical new collection--populated by old married couples, children, cats, and nosy neighbors, the entire menagerie of the everyday--reaffirm Can Xue's reputation as one of the most innovative Chinese writers in a generation. Can Xue is a pseudonym meaning "dirty snow, leftover snow." She learned English on her own and has written books on Borges, Shakespeare, and Dante. Her publications in English include,The Embroidered Shoes,Five Spice Street, andBlue Light in the Sky, among others. Karen Gernant is a professor emerita of Chinese history at Southern Oregon University. She translates in collaboration with Chen Zeping. Chen Zeping is a professor of Chinese linguistics at Fujian Teachers' University, and has collaborated with Karen Gernant on more than ten translations.… (more)

Media reviews

In her collection Vertical Motion, Can Xue establishes a trippy and surreal world: apartments float high in the air, and large owls and men with lacquer-black skin haunt troubled people. There's a common thread between Can Xue and Japanese writer Haruki Murakami in that both writers use the surreal to expound the oddness of human experiences; but where Murakami's is a kind of hipster existentialism, Can Xue roots her existentialism in folklore. In many ways, Can Xue's place is between Isaac Bashevis Singer and Franz Kafka. For instance, in "Red Leaves," a story about death and memory, an old man wanders the hallways of a hospital with an old friend, searching for the source of a meowing sound that's been pestering him. The old man's contemplation of whether a leaf turns red from the stalk out or gradually throughout the entire leaf becomes a larger metaphor for mortality. In "An Affectionate Companion's Jottings," a dark and mysterious visitor calls upon a man afflicted with symptoms of manic depression. The lacquer-dark stranger is a symbol for the manic-depressive's melancholia. In "Cotton Candy," a young child becomes obsessed with an old woman's technique for spinning cotton candy, often seeing her at her candy machine when no one else can see her. For Can Xue, reality seems to be unnecessary: it's in fantasy that truth is revealed.

User reviews

LibraryThing member JimElkins
Can Xue may be China's "one possibility" of a Nobel (a terribly outdated thing Susan Sontag said, quoted on the cover -- now it has the unfortunate resonance of China's rejection of the Nobel as a tool of Western politics) but there is no evidence for it in this book. These stories are sometimes astonishingly inventive, in a continuous, unedited, stream of consciousness way, but they are so loosely written that I continually lose faith in her control of the sense, affect, direction, purpose, or meaning of the text.

A story called "An Affectionate Companion's Jottings," written from the point of view of a cat, is an adequate example. It's quite inventive and diverting to read about the cat's impressions of its depressed and occasionally suicidal owner. But Can Xue seems to think that surrealist and illogical details, which are sprinkled throughout her stories, are automatically generators of expressive sense. In this case, a "black man" visits the cat's owner, and stays some time without speaking. Aside from the unfortunate choice of a "black man" (any visitor would have done as well, and Western readers can't be expected to join in the author's simple equation of blackness with strangeness), the problem is that the visits are never explained. The rest of the story is more realistic; that detail is from another kind of writing, a mildly surrealist or magic-realist tradition. Can Xue apparently doesn't notice that the closure of the story of the cat and its owner is at odds with the openness of the unexplained visits of the "black man," and that that dissonance will appear to readers as an author's problem, not an author's gift.

I think Can Xue is at her best when she concentrates on either surrealism or realism, because she has no clear sense of how they mix. I like "Never at Peace," a story of an old man who behaves unaccountably. It is entirely in a realist vein. I also like "Vertical Motion," a crazily inventive story about a creature that lives in the soil. But the mixtures are all rum. "The Brilliant Purple China Rose" mingles a well-imagined relationship between a couple with a magical rose that blooms upside down; "The Roses at the Hospital" has more fantastical roses (this time with fetuses at their roots). The latter story seems especially carelessly composed: I see no evidence she went back and rethought anything. Each invention, it seems, was put to paper as it occurred to her. Tighter writing is what she needs.
… (more)
LibraryThing member hemlokgang
Open Letter translation......Think subconscious, subterranean (literally and figuratively), and subversive! Think lyrical dreamscapes! Think brilliant! This is an absolutely outstanding collection of short stories. Can Xue's writing is breathtaking! Her writing makes me think of Kafka.....of Rushdie.....and David Foster Wallace. This is a collection of stories into which the reader must give themselves over and ride the tide of language, imagery, and power. Not for folks who need clear-cut plot......otherwise, a must read, perhaps multiple times, like a good poem. I would love to hear these stories read aloud!… (more)


Original language



Page: 0.2681 seconds