Monday, April 17, 2023

The Double Life of Benson Yu

The Double Life of Benson Yu by Kevin Chong
4/18/23; 224 pages
Atria Books

The Double Life of Benson Yu by Kevin Chong is a highly recommended work of metafiction regarding the Benson Yu's upbringing in 1980s Chinatown.

After his mother dies, twelve-year-old Benny lives with his ailing grandmother in Chinatown. When his grandmother is hospitalized and his aunt is on tour with a band, Benny asks his neighbor Constantine, a man who believes he’s a reincarnated medieval samurai, if he can stay with him after a social worker stops by. The two form a bond and then Benny is taken out of his apartment and eventually goes to stay with his father, Benson, in the future.

Once Benny is in the future, with his father, who is really himself, the novel takes an odd turn and space and time are ignored in order for the narrator to grapple with the abuse he suffered at the hands of his sensei. Benson is famous for creating Iggy Samurai, a comic book which is semi- autobiographical and C., the instructor who abused him is demanding money.

I actually like Benny's voice in the 1980s. Once the novel jumped and the metafiction part of the writing took over, I enjoyed it less, although I liked the character of Benny. Although I wasn't totally engaged with the plot device of jumping forward in time and then Benson's narration, I still liked the character of Benny. Basically, I was there for Benny but no so much for the whole metafiction and therapeutic portion of the plot. I'm not a reader of comic books, but I did appreciate that detail of the story.

Benny was an interesting, resilient character who invited readers to support him and wish the best for his future. I liked the ending. I liked the beginning, and the middle part of the novel was a bit frustrating although it did eventually result in an ending that was satisfying for me. This is a coming-of-age story that follows an unusual trajectory to the conclusion. It is an interesting idea for a plot, but isn't entirely successful, however, where it succeeds, it excels.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Atria via Edelweiss.

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