If you were ever wondering how to pick up a maid in Statue Square, you will quickly find the answer to your question in Rea Tarvydas’s debut collection of short stories (whew, am I right?). Statue Square by the way, is a real place in Hong Kong, and I’ve tracked down an image of it using this handy tool called Google Images. You can feast you eyes upon it below.
But this isn’t typically how one imagines Hong Kong, is it? I’ve never been, but I picture Hong Kong at night, with lots of flashing lights, billboards, and traffic, similar to the cover of How to Pick Up a Maid in Statue Square. Tarvydas does a wonderful job of evoking these dark images, as many stories take place in bars under strange neon signs. Her characters are mostly expats struggling to find their place in Hong Kong, although she does stray into the life of a Filipino nanny in “Merrilou”, albeit briefly, only a few pages. It’s obvious Tarvydas is mostly comfortable depicting the lives of the transplanted, (especially because she was an expat herself for awhile), so her stories seem believable, even if the characters are extremely wealthy in some cases. But this wealth and glamour is what makes these stories so interesting, I found some of them read like screenplays, in fact “Blank” could be shopped around for movie rights it was so engrossing*.
The writing in this book is also noteworthy, because it doesn’t get in the way of the story. The descriptions are the perfect balance of interesting but not distracting, absorbing but not rambling. In many cases, I believe the best kind of writing is that which you don’t really notice; you’re too wrapped up in what you’re reading about to worry about the words being used, which Tarvydas seems to have a confidant grasp of.
Her characters were by far the strongest part of this collection, which is why I think it was so smart of her to make this a book of linked stories-as a reader, I wanted to read about these people over and over again. But my attachment to the characters led to my one complaint with the book-I found the stories ended too early! It’s not that things were left unresolved, but there wasn’t that ‘aha’ moment that takes a good story to a marvellous one. This moment could be a realization, a turn of events, or even a secret uncovered, but unfortunately I didn’t find that in this book. That’s not to say it isn’t worth reading because I think it is. But, Tarvydas has to push her writing to the next level; once she lives with her characters a bit longer and further explores their lives, a truly memorable story will be born. In fact, I’d love to read a novel by this author, I’m sure it would be a great success. I know she has some promising work ahead of her, so I look forward to her next offering.
*Don’t believe me? Check it out for yourself! I’m always excited to share up-and-coming Albertan talent with others so comment below to enter, and I’ll randomly choose a winner to receive a SIGNED copy of this book!