Swimming with Dead Stars is somber until you start laughing, hilarious until you weep, and every single sentence contains the enormity, volatility, and devotion of a poetic and plasmic sun. Its radiance will leave you salty with despair and woefully, regretlessly hot.
Swimming With Dead Stars
Vi Khi Nao
A hypnotic sojourn of planetary proportions through the terrestrial contingencies of bodies, health, poverty, and salvation
Maldon is an adjunct literature instructor at a prestigious East Coast university, with a deteriorating heart condition and no insurance. She finds herself caught between the demands of her job and the needs of her body, triggering economic and emotional strains that cause her to fantasize about taking her own life. But Maldon, who has pledged to safeguard her mother ever since their arrival in the US on a refugee ship from postwar Vietnam, has vowed to forgo suicide for as long as her mother is living.
In time, her heart worsens rapidly, and she ventures cross-country to a place called Cloud for the operation that may save her life. In Cloud, Maldon is joined by old friend planet Neptune, who is hermaphroditic, peculiar, and has agreed to accompany Maldon through the operation.
Swimming with Dead Stars is a hallucinatory meditation on the stars and planets, the precariousness of our existence, the cruel inequities of labor and healthcare, chickens and ice cream, and the grace that comes from enduring the physical and psychic pain wrought by pernicious social forces that enslave us all.
At first, when reading Swimming with Dead Stars you wonder why the book exists. By the end you wonder why you exist.
All of Vi Khi Nao’s books share a mythopoetic impulse and create together a world in which modes of being and art-making seem suddenly more recognizable in their elaborately evoked never-before-seen-ness. Nao reminds me of Antoine Volodine, not stylistically, but in her forging of genres that seem distinctly her own.
Vi Khi Nao is an absurdist dreamer with a lacerating view of the world and its ills. Swimming with Dead Stars, a philosophical treatise on adjuncting, illness, and relationships, is ferocious and alive, like a monstrous field of technicolor flowers foaming at the mouth.
These pieces are elaborate piecework — perforated, whip stitched, and distressed field-dressed dissections of language
A Brief Alphabet of Torture: Stories
Vi Khi Nao
Winner of the FC2 Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize
An unflinching and riveting meditation on the pain that attends every facet of existence — love and sacrifice and intimacy and beauty — a biography of torture.
Like all of Vi Khi Nao’s acclaimed and award-winning work, A Brief Alphabet of Torture bleeds across many modes and genres — poetry, essay, fiction, drama — and itself almost constitutes a novel of a different kind. Each tale captures the emotional, physical, psychological, political, and artistic concerns that pervade life like breath and which, even when very beautiful, are filled with pain.
These stories are all facets of Nao’s imagination that define the way she views creation, sexuality, violence, and the role of life in an ontological system that relies heavily on cultural, social, and artistic duress. Some stories like “Winter Rose” and “I Love You Me Neither” rise above the boundaries of pain to places of beauty and grace and love, where pain has no place, but make clear how rare such moments appear in life.
Donald Barthelme said that he wanted to be on the leading edge of the junk phenomenon, and with these exquisite effervescent, eviscerating fictions of A Brief Alphabet of Torture, Vi Khi Nao is out there with him, whittling away at the whole anatomic nominative scrapheap of our layered and laminated lexicon. Edgy, you bet! These pieces are elaborate piecework — perforated, whip stitched, and distressed field-dressed dissections of language. Tortured? Maybe. But lusciously junked and juxtaposed, turned inside out and every which way but … No, in every way they make way. These tales tax and tantalize, a taxidermy of turnt transcendence.