The Green-Eyed Monster in Yellowface
On sickness in the Publishing Industry
A few months ago Nate and I ended the quintessential regular discussion of the modern couple (“What do you want to watch?” “I don’t know. What do you want to watch?”) with a movie billed as comedy/romance, You Hurt My Feelings.
This wasn’t your typical chick-flick, boy meets girl, girl hates boy, boy figures out how to win girl. Writer Beth and therapist Don are marriage goals, always nailing anniversary gifts and laughing at one another’s stories and jokes, adept at eye-contact conversations, parents of a twenty-something son. They have it made. The lies that do exist in their relationship are just the nice ones, the little white ones. I love this tie, those earrings. I love your book, you’re so smart and wise. Maybe at one time rooted in truth but so oft said that they’ve lost both their potency and their fullness. The crux of the plot happens when Beth overhears Don saying how much he dislikes her latest book, despite him having said repeatedly to her face how much he likes it. From there the drama unfolds.
I think every artist ought to watch the movie or something like it. It’s not an Oscar winner or great art, but it encapsulates the human condition to fib our way into love and also the ways in which art can only be made better when we tell the truth with it and hear the truth about it. Asher Lev with his paintbrush, Jo March with her fairy stories, Emily Dickinson with her pen—the artist must ask themselves if they’re soft enough to tell the truth and resilient enough to hear the feedback.
I’ve just finished Yellowface by R. F. Kuang. This wasn’t my first Kuang of the past year. Nate and I both read Babel over last summer and he read The Poppy War shortly after. I confess not even knowing she was the same author of the striking mustard yellow book making the circuits on everyone’s favorites lists. Nate brought it home from the library for me this week and made the connection for me. “Same author?” I asked, and turned to the back flap where indeed, it was the same author who’d penned the epic and imaginative Babel.
I didn’t love the ending of Babel, but no one can deny the premise and character development was impressive. Even more impressive, though, is the fact that Rebecca Kuang is 27 years old and has five full novels under her belt, a MPhil in Chinese Studies from Cambridge, a MSc in Contemporary Chinese Studies from Oxford, and is working on a Phd in East Asian Languages and Literature at Yale. She has been nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and World-Fantasy awards and is a two-time New York Times Bestseller. At 27 years old today.
Before I’d even heard of Yellowface, I remember reading her bio on the back flap of Babel and thinking two thoughts. First, she must be a savant and second, I will never be that accomplished no matter how hard I work.
Oh, the irony.