Short Stories 366:239 — “Yellowtail,” by Viet Dinh

coverWhen I started this Short Stories 366 project, one of the mail goals was to get through all the dozens of anthologies I’ve had sitting on my shelves either partially unread or never cracked, and while I’ve perhaps accomplished this in part, I’ve also bought so many new anthologies and collections that it’s likely I wiped out any gain. I don’t regret that, but during a bit of nice weather I took His 2 outside with me and started reading and it was very much like time travel. The book was released in the late 90’s, and the tone of the book very much aligns with that time. That’s not a complaint, and Viet Dinh’s “Yellowtail” is a wonderful piece took me out of that sunshine and warm breeze and knocked me back in time and to another place for the duration.

We meet Giang while he’s working at a Japanese sushi restaurant, and everyone but the other employees (who are Japanese) assumes he is, too, though he’s Vietnamese. It’s just the start of the ‘outsider’ vibe, which bubbles and simmers its way to a violent moment before shifting in tone to something more hopeful and possible near the end. We watch him struggle to maintain his role in clothing that literally itches—I loved this part of the narrative, the struggle to be comfortable in the wrong outfit being such a perfect metaphor for not being out in a given place—and his little acts of rebellion and kindness while he prepares sushi are borderline cunning, especially balanced as they are between a somewhat hostile work environment, a hopeful (and handsome) repeat customer, and a loud couple rubbing everyone the wrong way.

Viet Dinh’s tale is, ultimately, a hopeful one, so despite the journey and the dark turns—and there are multiple dark turns—I put the story down feeling the possibility of it all, rather than depressed or defeated. If anything, the pacing, the events, and the Giang’s confessions about former lovers, his family, and his work felt empowering and strong. It reminded me so very much of the 90’s, of that sense of isolation, of watching so many people fall, but also of what it was like to find each other, to finally see other people like me, and to be struck with the reality of not being alone. It’s a heady mix, and I’m glad I pulled it off my shelf.

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