PULSE by Lydia Kwa (Key Porter), 277 pages, $21 paper. Rating: NNN
Lydia Kwa’s third novel is a courageous piece of fiction.
Its protagonist is an acupuncturist working out of Toronto’s Chinatown. Like many dutiful Chinese, Natalie lives with her parents, including the father she loathes, who has suffered a stroke.
Natalie hears from her ex-lover Farridah in Singapore – where the two women met in middle school – the shocking news that Farridah’s son Selim has committed suicide. What Farridah doesn’t know when Natalie decides to visit is that Natalie and Selim have a special connection.
It’s always pleasurable to read a novel set in Toronto, but the key to Pulse is Kwa’s spare yet evocative prose. She’s attuned to the sights and sounds of her two settings and deals with her potent themes – sexual bondage, sexual abuse – with that same clear-eyed perspective.
There’s a mysterious element to the tale. Why did Farridah suddenly leave Natalie? What drove Farridah to a conventional marriage with Adam? And, of course, what devastated Selim so deeply that he chose to take his own life?
Kwa’s skilled at leaking the information we need to follow the story at just the right moments, allowing the strands to come together – sometimes a bit too easily – in what is an extremely well-structured narrative.
She also delivers a fascinating main character, a medical professional who can use her skill to disarm an attacker by pressing the right spot on his body, a woman with a sad childhood who’s struggling but still strong, who fearlessly probes her own fears in order to face difficult truths.
Kwa’s a writer who gets better and better.
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