Mister Yam by Yeng Tan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
2.5 stars because I am slightly (British: very) annoyed with this book.
TL;DR: For all the fantastic layered writing in the beginning, the ending was a flat out trope. He did not stick the landing, folks.
Mister Yam starts most deliciously. We're presented with an oddly named Malaysian protagonist in California who has a rather intriguing voice. Mister Yam meets up with Lorenzo, an old college friend, and encounters the winged sheep (that's on the cover) for the first time.
Part 1 is the start of the bizarre events that happen to Mister Yam - a mystery that I'm rather invested in. Who is this unknown woman who knows all about him? Who is this bald, sheep-obsessed man who keeps turning up everywhere and feels like a time-traveller? How are all these random events connected? There are some brilliant lines, some rather poignant philosophical musings, but also a few awkward word choices. Play pamphlet becomes a whole side-story, but that's another matter.
Part 2 is where the dissatisfaction starts setting in. Everything is becoming too coincidental, too manufactured. It doesn't feel like cause and effect anymore, it feels like random events tacked on to advance the story. There is a sidetrack into Emma's backstory of her Mormon mission in Mongolia and escaping from Mormonism & her family, which involves the bald man with the sheep. The mystery is nowhere closer to being solved; it just felt like an anti-Mormon spiel. On that point, I never got why Emma (who, before this, thought he was a bit weird) would just suddenly invite a weirdo to her home. And then tell him her life story. But not the important bit at the end, he needs to figure that out himself.
At any rate, the mystery is devolving into Mister Yam is supposed to know what he's supposed to know even if he doesn't know he knows it (but the mystery is also where is Lorenzo?). The reader (me) doesn't know any of what he's supposed to know so this is all just going round in circles. Confusion x1000.
And then you get to Part 3, where the conclusion to the mystery or the search for Lorenzo (or the sheep, or Boris, or whatever the heck Mister Yam is hiding from himself) is revealed. And it sucks. It plays out like one of those shitty school essays where the author doesn't know how to resolve everything they've put in and takes the easiest solution. If this were an essay, I'd give an A for the prose and writing style but a D for ending and resolution.
Read it, I guess, if you just want philosophical musings about life and the universe. Not if you want the ending to mean something to the beginning.
Note: I received a digital ARC of this book from the author. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
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