Editing Blue Light in the Sky was one of my most rewarding experiences while working at New Directions, and I was really thrilled to receive an email from Can Xue recently saying she thinks it is one of her best works ever published. The biggest challenge for me in editing the translation was latching on to the style and hearing the voice. I might be wrong, but I think Can Xue emphasizes mood and story over highly stylized prose. Her voice is deliberately flat. Western literature draws on sources with which we’re all familiar: the Bible, Shakespeare, Homer, Dante. Can Xue’s biggest influences are writers like Kafka, Dante, Goethe, and Calvino, though I’ve read arguments elsewhere that her writing is rooted in emotion and landscape. I believe this is true. Her writing always conveys the constant threat of chaos lurking beneath. That said, the challenge of my job as editor was to see the arc in each story and make sure the sentences were correct, that the paragraphs flowed, and that the arc emerged clearly in each of the stories. As I said before, Can Xue’s stories are to me like modern abstract paintings, demanding the reader’s engagement in that particular way . . .
A feature by Paul Kerschen
Can Xue’s Five Spice Street is among other things an author’s reflection on her newfound public position. The book was originally published as Breakthrough Performance (突围表演), a purposely self-conscious title for a debut novel. At the same time, 突围 suggests breaking free, an escape from entrapment or other immediate danger, and this raises the possibility that the escape itself constitutes the performance, that a kind of Houdini act is being staged . . .
A feature by Nell Pach
The previous century saw the explosion of magic realist fiction, texts where daily life and the fantastic filter through each other. The continued development of a genre that steps away from straight realism seems not just likely but, paradoxically, necessary for effective artistic representations of the real and the human. Can Xue's The Last Lover, at once alien and familiar in its casual miracles, its people and things that blink in and out of solid existence, and its radical reconsideration of subjectivity, reads like an inaugural, or at least transformative, text. Call it magic virtual realism. We are perhaps overdue for a literary approach to this new form of human experience. Most of us now live substantial portions of our lives within a cyber-sphere of kaleidoscoping stories, dialogue, and images. We waft in from all parts of the analog world to hold either infinitesimal or prolonged intercourse with people who appear, like us, out of nowhere; we friend them, fight them, not infrequently doubt their existence or aspects thereof. We share moments of feeling we don’t understand, we slide into oblivion or obliviousness with a click. We have come perhaps closer than ever to something that resembles a dreamscape in sober waking life . . .