With Sour Heart, poet Jenny Zhang is making her prose debut. The collection of short stories is composed of several loosely interlinked tales centered around the lives of Chinese-American teenage girls in New York City. It’s also the first publication by Lenny Books, a Random House imprint run by Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner.
Self-proclaimed voracious readers, the duo tout Lenny Books with the following mission statement:
Lenny books will aspire to push the ball forward on the issues that matter to our audience, with wit and style. We hope to see them sticking out of purses and riding public transportation everywhere.
I have a thing for reading debut publications, and was initially intrigued by Sour Heart and what Jenny Zhang had to say about the immigrant experience. She plows through the hardships of the old and new world, poverty, self-harm and sexual awakening as if she’s had a checklist of themes she needed to tick off.
Yet Sour Heart raises no expectations and makes no promises, and thus delivers – drivel. These seven meandering stories are loosely connected for no reason other than to provide a false sense of relevance. For page after page, you hope for something beyond the run-on sentences and teenage (verbal) cruelty, but there is no epiphany, just emptiness at the end of having endured this prose which tries real hard to conjure the 90s in language but fails to flesh out the cardboard cutout characters it keeps parading by.
The collection’s strongest image comes from the second story, fittingly titled The Empty the empty the empty – the main character Lucy smears her vaginal stink on her elder brother’s door, wanting to be taken seriously, yet only understanding the grossness of the act and not what it is she wants to express; a fitting image for the effort that is Sour Heart.
One shriveled little sour grape.
I did NOT receive a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.