I always look forward to a new book by Alan Chin and he never disappoints. In this new collection of six short stories, he looks at why we in the West gravitate to Eastern religions and it seems that in the East, the search for inner truth and love is easier to deal with. We learn that enlightenment comes to those who help others who are not as fortunate. We have here six stories of men trying to achieve enlightenment and in each case they find what they do not expect to find. Some of the stories are fiction while others are based on true happenings.
“Monk for a Month is the story of Reese, Darren and Archer, their seven-year-old son. They are on vacation as Buddhist monks in Thailand. Both Darren and Reece are acting out of their relationship; Darren seems to be involved with a young novice and Reece seems to be somewhat taken with a an who is wanted for murder. Chin sets the story up with quite a long exposition and his descriptions are a pleasure to read.
“Handcarved Elephants” is about a priest who has been defrocked because of his sexual advances with a teen. We meet him while he is on a yacht and it was here that he planned to take his own life by jumping overboard but instead he was washed up on a beach where he was found by Buddhist monks from a nearby monastery. He is given refuge there and to find out what happens you will have to read the story.
Philip Mann and his son Tru are the focus of “Empty Chairs”, the third story. Philip was a fireman who answered the calls to the World Trade Center on that fateful day, 9/11/01. He was so upset by what happened that he could not get his life back on tack and he left his wife and young son. He entered a Buddhist monastery. Now some ten years later, Tru, his son, who is still young tracks him down to the monastery where he tells his father that his mother took her own life not long before by jumping out of a window. Tru was sent to live with his grandparents (his mother’s parents) who sent him away to have his homosexuality deprogrammed. Philip decides that the time has come for him to take responsibility for his son (and for himself). He manages to regain guardianship of Tru and get rid of his grandparents who have been using him to gain his inheritance.
In “Almost Enough”, Palmer decides to leave everything behind and take a coworker who was diagnosed with a brain tumor to Thailand. The surprise here is that the coworker is Archer, the son in “Monk for a Month”. He is now an adult and he wishes to return to the monastery he had once visited with his two fathers. More than that, I cannot say.
“White Monkey” introduces us to Martin Braxton who is a guest at the monastery while he tries to work things out with his boyfriend who is becoming a monk. In return for housing and meals Martin is a helper when needed. We learn of their time together as well as of where they are now and whether the relationship can be saved is just not clear.
Finally, “Death of a Stranger” is about a man who takes care of elephants, a manhout. This is a story that brings some of the other stories together. Archer once again appears and he and the manhout along with a monk try to rescue Philip and Tru who have been imprisoned because of their politics and are in Myanmar.
I cannot say that this is a happy read but there are moments of happiness in the texts. Alan Chin has a wonderful name in the field of LGBT literature and reading this book shows us why that is. I don’t know much about the West but I did learn a lot here. Not only did I learned but I also had the chance to read beautiful writing.
I write novels, short stories and screenplays.
I am the author of eight published novels and three unpublished screenplays. You can read about all my pubished works at http://alanchinauthor.com
I live and write half of each year at my home in Southern California, and spend the other half of each year traveling the globe with my husband, Herman Chin.