We Should Never Meet
Author: Aimee Phan
Thoughts: Excellent Writing; Kind of a Downer; Frustratingly Ambiguous; I Wish I Knew More About These People
So I grabbed Phan’s collection of linked short stories off a shelf at my favorite used book store in New Orleans (she’s the director of my writing program so I felt I needed to read it before classes began) and carried it around with me for a month before I could finally bring myself to read it. Something about it just seemed like it would be a painful read, but I was surprised to learn the opposite. Each story was fluid, gliding into each other and these people’s lives.
Set both during and in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, the book explores, through various persons related to the event, Operation Babylift (an American intervention to immigrate orphans left in the wake of the war–mainly those children with American parentage) and the lives of the orphans related to it as they grew up in America. So clearly this was going to be a fraught topic: babies, war, American foster system and orphans. It’s a rough subject, but Phan doesn’t make things too wrenching. She isn’t trying to punish the reader, but rather give them this brief glance into the window of those affected’s lives.
I think, though, despite Phan’s seamless writing style, I couldn’t bring myself to love this book. She builds some frighteningly tense situations (the scene with Bac and Vinh in “Visitors” is wrenching) and then, at the last minute–right before the climax, takes you out of them. I felt a bit cheated to never hear the end of Bridget’s story, only left to assume the worst of her. The final story was, to me, the most flat and a bit of a bitter note to end on. And as for the various characters left behind in Vietnam, I craved more knowledge of their lives. What happened to them in the war. The worst is the terribly vague opening, effective in what it never says, but I felt most connected to Nan and then you never even learn the details of her situation and she’s never heard from again.
Overall, it’s a fast read with an interesting, lesser-known perspective on the Vietnam War. Worth a read, you may learn something, but overall, it won’t be replacing any favorites on the shelf.