Water Margin, whose authorship is traditionally attributed to Shi Nai’an and Luo Guanzhong, is one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature. Among these Four Greats, Water Margin was the only one I was studiously dissuaded from reading as a Confucian schoolchild during the 1980s, for the same reasons it became so popular in the Sinosphere: its shockingly violent action, anti-authoritarian themes, and colourfully vulgar depictions of everyday life in the Song Dynasty. Despite my elders’ disapproval, I managed to read The Water Margin through means more foul than fair, and it has since become one of my favourite stories (even as I become more aware about its casual misogyny and centring of masculine perspectives).
Olivie Blake’s Alone With You in the Ether (Tor Books, 2022) is a messy, vulnerable story about two unusual people meeting, falling in love, and figuring out how their love can survive contact with the world—and their own troubled pasts.
Regan is an artist volunteering as a docent at the Art Institute of Chicago. She lives in a swank apartment with her sexy, wealthy, and patronizing boyfriend, Marc. They go to parties, snort cocaine in restrooms, get home late, have tired, intoxicated sex, and sleep to midday—when Regan rolls out of bed and heads off to her museum shift.
On the surface, Regan’s brand of cynical libertine is rather uninteresting.
This novel is like a real story, told in fits and starts over beers in a graffiti-addled dive bar, by multiple frazzled friends who can’t agree on one version of events, or even keep their own version straight.
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