Nancy had bought her food and was sitting at a round table waiting for him. When he carried his food over there, he noticed that no others were sitting at this table, yet the other tables were crowded. ‘I think things are very well organized here,’ Nancy said quietly as she ate. She was satisfied. Jose thought, he and Nancy were becoming more and more distant from one another. Still no one had joined them by the time they finished eating. Everyone else was crushed together, and many people even stood as they ate. The director and the two of them were isolated in this canteen.
Frontier by Can Xue (残雪), née Deng Xiaohua (邓小华). 2017.
Avant-garde fiction writer and literary critic Can Xue is famous for her abstract, unconventional narrative form. Blurring the demarcations between dream-like imagination and reality, she treats each story as a self-experiment, implanting herself at the core of each twisting tale. After Can Xue’s gender was revealed to critics, it became evident that her subversive tone made them uncomfortable, with one male critic going as far as to label her “certifiably insane.” Can Xue’s critical writing has addressed many renowned creators, from Dante and Shakespeare to Borges and Goethe. Her work has greatly served to advance literary momentum in China, and several of her books have been translated into multiple languages.
Frontier is Can Xue’s newest creation. The ambiguously located Pebble Town and its enigmatic Design Institute draw eclectic individuals seeking a sense of belonging and home. The town’s unpredictable magic seizes and shakes. Its inhabitants experience vivid hallucinations. The area is overrun by wild animals. In the midst of Pebble Town’s anomalies, Can Xue starts and stops different narratives. Each chapter is dedicated to one or more of about a dozen characters, none of whom have a clear story arc or conventionally resolved endings. The intricate tangle of relationships, the aberrance of the setting, and the short, terse language: Can Xue truly weaves a novel deviating from traditional storytelling that reads like both wonder and surrender.