Rock Paper Tiger
368pp. Soho Press.
Possibly it is not a total secret that the Rejectionist has, like, a soft spot for the tough-but-fucked-up lady-heroine! IT IS DEFINITELY NOT BECAUSE WE SEE ELEMENTS OF OURSELF IN THESE FICTIVE REPRESENTATIONS NO IT IS NOT THANK YOU VERY MUCH. Oh, SHUT UP. Anyway! Also very dear to us is the thriller-as-a-vehicle-for-insightful-social-commentary! So you can IMAGINE how much we like insightful thrillers starring tough but fucked-up lady characters! A LOT. That's how much we like them. And GUESS WHAT? They're kind of hard to find (the operative adjective being "insightful," folks)! All of which is to say, we tore through the fantabulous Rock Paper Tiger with RECKLESS ABANDON AND DELIGHT. Ellie Cooper, Rock Paper Tiger's down-and-out heroine, has followed her mildly shady soon-to-be-ex-husband to Beijing after a totally disastrous tour of duty in Iraq. A chance encounter with a mysterious gentleman in the home of her artist-friend Lao Zhang sets off all kinds of catastrophe, and Ellie spends the bulk of the novel's action trying to get away from a frightful assortment of Very Bad Guys, running from Beijing's underworld to the Chinese countryside and back again, with some detours in a complicated online-gaming universe. That right there is an awesome novel, but Lisa Brackmann will not rest with snappy dialogue and thrilling plot twists! No, she also insists on seamlessly interweaving intelligent, provocative, and beautifully handled commentary on capitalism, consumer culture, and the Gulf War, in a Beijing so vividly realized the Rejectionist could practically TASTE THE DUMPLINGS EVERY TIME ELLIE ATE THEM. In all seriousness, however, it is a great relief to read an expat-thriller novel where the setting is never exoticized; China is so real and alive here, as are Ellie's scrappy artist friends and Beijing's underground art world. Ellie herself is never less than entirely lovable; a complex, messed-up protagonist whose saving grace is her ruthless honesty. There is so much to love about this thoughtful and original debut, and we cannot wait to see what Lisa Brackmann comes up with next. Don't tell our mom how badly this book made us want to sell all of our possessions, buy a one-way plane ticket to China, and disappear for the next decade.