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Day 2 | pp. 37-58 (through "If that many people secretly liked them, that’d be totally embarrassing.")

July 9, 2021 by Paul Lisicky

“I’m the same as you,” says Shui Ling to the narrator, and we suspect this is as close to acknowledging queerness as they’re going to get. How does the imperative to be indirect (or secretive) complicate their attachment? Does it drive them apart?

In a book that’s “inclined toward realism,” the passages about the crocodile work as counterpoint. The fantastical gives us an alternate lens through which to consider identity and otherness. And it keeps us from being too certain.

For the narrator college is bleak, a place in which people “arrive covered in a layer of muck” and smear it onto others. It’s a place of multiple compulsories (education, work, marriage). The unsaid? Compulsory heterosexuality.

Notebook 2 introduces us to Meng Sheng, walking life force. Embodiment of queerness: mutable, vulnerable, outrageous. Plus, he cracks up the narrator and vice versa, always a flash of joy on the page.

The afternoon by the lake, the rain storm, the drenching—Miaojin is excellent in these moments of cinematic vitality in which the inner life is captured by the outside world, always elusive, shifting, too beautiful to hold.

A wonderful turn after the narrator muses on those pop songs from high school: “but I still knew the words by heart—do you?” You being the reader? Shui Ling? Both? Some space is closed: intimacy.

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