Synopses & Reviews
The woman I loved wasn't in love with me; the woman I married wasn't a wife to me. Ilin Cheung was my wife on paper. In deed, she belonged to Yi-Tung Szeto. In debt, I also belonged to him. He was my father, paper too.
Steer Toward Rock, Fae Myenne Ng's heartbreaking novel of unrequited love, tells the story of the only bachelor butcher at the Universal Market in San Francisco. Jack Moon Szeto — that was the name he bought, the name he made his life by — serves the lonely grass widows whose absentee husbands work the farmlands in the Central Valley. A man who knows that the body is the only truth, Jack attends to more than just their weekly orders of lamb or beef.
But it is the free-spirited, American-born Joice Qwan with whom Jack falls in love. A woman whose life is guided by more than simple pain, Joice hands out towels at the Underground Bathhouse and sells tickets at the Great Star Theatre; her mother cleans corpses. Joice wants romance and she wants to escape Chinatown, but Jack knows that she is his ghost of love, better chased than caught.
It is the 1960s and while the world is on the edge of an exciting future, Jack has not one grain of choice in his life. When his paper wife arrives from China he is forced to fulfill the last part of his contract and to stand before the law with the woman who is to serve as mistress to his fake father. Jack has inherited a cruel cultural legacy. A man with no claim to the past, his only hope is to make a new story for himself, one that includes both Joice and America.
Not since Bone, Fae Myenne Ng's highly praised debut novel, has a work so eloquently revealed the complex loyalties of Chinese America. Steer Toward Rock is the story of a man who chooses love over the law, illuminating a part of U.S. history few are aware of, but one that has had echoing effects for generations.
"This eagerly awaited follow-up to Fae Myenne Ng's first novel, Bone, again addresses the issues of Chinese-American identity in this moving, unflinching yet sometimes witty story. Jack Moon Szeto enters San Francisco in 1952, falsely posing as the son of Yi-Tung 'Gold' Szeto, a registered U.S. citizen. In return, Jack must pay Szeto by working for two years and marrying a 'fake wife.' Employed as a butcher, Jack takes the younger Joice Qwan as his lover. Even though she becomes pregnant, Joice refuses to marry Jack. Despondent, Jack attempts to nullify his contract with Szeto before entering the INS's Chinese Confession Program and renouncing his false identity, resulting in Szeto's deportation, but not citizenship for Jack. Toward the end, the story shifts to Jack's congenial relationship with his spirited daughter Veda, whose growing mission is to protect Jack by making him a naturalized U.S. citizen. Ng's simple, sturdy yet poetic prose is juxtaposed against the clinical language of Jack's immigration documents; the result is a nuanced portrayal of two generations and the many challenges they face in their quest for security and fulfillment." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Ng takes us to the same Chinatown [of Bone] in an earlier time, the McCarthy era and the turbulent 1960s, offering a more poetic, imagistic and ultimately deeper investigation into the dark and complex heart of the immigrant experience." Los Angeles Times
"One feels [Ng] attacking this fiction-writing business as if it's the most important chance any of us will ever get to put the truth on paper, and one is left...in awe of her talent. Ng exposes us, she makes us vulnerable..." Chicago Tribune
"A searing portrait of another immigrant struggling to get by....Ng brings to this moving story both a sensuous, poetic style and an understated tone that only serves to underline the immigrant struggle." Booklist
"Combining elements of gangster noir, romance, grumpy-old-man comedy, and family drama, Ng finds a fresh and exciting way to tell a familiar story." Elle
"Ng is best in close-up....But when she strains for the poetic, Ng's prose can feel imprecise....[T]he voices of her characters seem strangely stiff, frequently communicating in aphorisms..." Ligaya Mishan, The New York Times Book Review
"It isn't often I recommend starting a 255-page novel on page 243. But in Fae Myenne Ng's perversely obstacle-strewn Steer Toward Rock, that's where you'll find information crucial to making any sense of the book's preceding 242 pages." Seattle Times
"Ng's novel finds its force in the latter stages, which explore the bond between a lively, confident American daughter and her remote Chinese father." Kirkus Reviews
"This is an always gorgeous and often terrifying love story. It's a poetic study of loyalty, love, loneliness, hard work, identity, immigration and political paranoia. I sing an honor song for Fae Myenne Ng's return with her new novel. It has already claimed a special place on my bookshelf alongside those few books that I read and read again." Sherman Alexie, author of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
"Here is a tale about illegal aliens from China, told with their own images, idioms, and axioms — and charming humor. Theirs are rich, complex lives, traversing the worlds and interrupted by immigration laws, 'laws by men that collided with laws or our ancestors.' An intriguing book most relevant now, Steer Toward Rock is a truly poetic novel." Maxine Hong Kingston, author of The Woman Warrior and I Love a Broad Margin to My Life
"In Steer Toward Rock, Fae Myenne Ng confirms the extraordinary talent she displayed in Bone. She makes brilliant use of economy; her characterizations are flawless, never overdone. She creates a world of people whose lives are centered in bonds and promises, who live without great expectation but with hope and strength of will. Steer Toward Rock is richly and beautifully crafted by virtue of the author's skill. It is a fine, rewarding novel." Robert Stone, author of Dog Soldiers
"Fae Myenne Ng has written a luminous love story...her protagonist Jack Szeto, beset on all sides, a stranger in a strange land, must choose between the love of his life and the only family he has ever known. Set in a San Francisco as strange as it is quixotic and peopled with a host of heart-break characters Steer Toward Rock is a joy of a novel." Junot Díaz, author of Drown and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
This eagerly awaited follow-up to Ng's first novel, Bone, again addresses the issues of Chinese-American identity, in a moving, unflinching, yet sometimes witty story.
About the Author
Fae Myenne Ng was born in San Francisco. Her work received the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Lannan Foundation and the Lila Wallace Reader's Digest Writers' Award. Bone, a finalist for the 1994 PEN/Faulkner, was a national bestseller and a critical success. Her short stories have appeared in Harper's and other magazines, and have been widely anthologized.