On Such a Full Sea by Chang-rae Lee

On Such a Full Sea

– By Paulie Spiceflow –

On Such a Full Sea wins the award for creepiest narrator of the year. The third-person perspective of the narrator manages to come off as a peeping Tom, watching the relationship of the young Reg and Fan. Fan is a sixteen year old girl who looks like she’s thirteen adding a pedophilic dimension to the creepiness.. The book cover adds more, imposing what looks like a child’s haircut. It is also a love story without dialogue or any actual romantic moments, only cold-hard facts about their tough life. Then Fan gets knocked up and Reg disappears.

One day, Fan decides to leave her home to find him. She doesn’t know where he is or where to start looking, but that isn’t really a big deal. I mean America isn’t that big or dangerous, is it?

Well it is, and our young girl, Fan, is horribly unprepared. In a post-US world, the Chinese have moved in and colonized the ruined cities of America giving them clever new names like “B-More” for Baltimore. No one really knows what happened to America but we do find out its inhabitants have devolved into violent, superstitious maniacs. On the way she meets some of these crazy former Americans including an odd stoic man named Quiq. This Quig is so lucky he lives in a settlement where women trade sexual favors for his medical expertise, even though he never asked for such arrangements. It is just for good measure, you know, to get to the front of the line.

If I didn’t know better I’d think Lee was making a not so subtle criticism of the US. Course it didn’t help that he never bothers to explain how or why America is in decline or how China managed to endure and make its way across the Pacific to colonize it. What of the purity of our new Chinese overlords? Well our narrator seems to find our tiny, youthful Fan quite attractive despite her childish appearance. She then gets knocked up by her sort-of boyfriend who disappears. Yeah… there’s some traditional values for ya.

The story itself takes several chapters to get started as Mr. Lee gives you dozens of pages of boring and irrelevant background information. Only about a third of the book is actual scenes where the story progresses forward. My compliments to Mr. Lee for writing a book that can be boring in so many ways. It couldn’t have been easy.

He also deserves high praise for using “of course” and “which” as many times as possible, preferring the passive tense. Mr. Lee seemed more interested in lecturing readers like a professor than telling a story.

I admit, I didn’t finish the book but ask yourself: what ending would’ve saved this boring train wreck (and train wrecks aren’t supposed to be boring)? After 200 or so pages of learning about how absolutely horrible and brutish Americans are and the plight of a pregnant teen who is semi-mute, what else could there be?