The fictions in Linh Dinh’s Blood and Soap are just strange enough to be true. There is a sense of having stumbled down a fire escape into a hidden world below Saigon where the government, in an effort to pep up its civilians, enforces the use of exclamation points after every syllable (“I! Am! A! Day! La! Bor! Er!”), or where comatose contestants in the Sleeping Beauty Pageant are wheeled in on gurneys. Reading Dinh, here on earth, where the Patriot Act and reality TV rule, one feels that his creations are grotesque enough to be bona fide.
Dinh’s abrupt epiphanies mix A.D.D. with Thoreau’s economy, Calvino’s globe-trotting, and a pungent eroticism reminiscent of Kawabata’s Palm-of-the-Hand Stories. Dinh changes cities as fast as thought. Two dozen of the tales here are one sentence long, each a tiny universe. Here is one of his “One-Sentence Stories,” in its entirety: “He loves maps for their own sake, it is true, and when he shouts out while pointing at a random destination, ‘I want to be there,’ he is not expressing a desire to be anywhere, particularly, on this great earth, but only a wish to be a fiber, a speck at most, on an intricately folded, colorful piece of paper.” Dinh whips the globe into thimble-sized bites which, considering its current perimeters, seems the only serving manageable.