Blood and Soap is a breakthrough collection of modern-day fables from a wildly inventive American writer whose fiction has been called “terse and edgy” (Booklist) and “vividly imagined” (Kirkus Reviews). Dinh’s gift is for constructing, in the manner of Italo Calvino, simple narratives that quickly frame larger questions; with a poet’s timing, the author builds his stories to the one or few climactic sentences that brand them with unforgettable meaning.
In one tale, a Vietnamese boy’s self-guided, haphazard study of English gives way to a meditation on the universality of language: “Everything seems chaotic at first, but nothing is chaotic. One can read anything: ants crawling on the ground; pimples on a face; trees in a forest.” In another story, a man opens a newspaper and sees the photograph of a man he may have murdered, which he impulsively clips, only to feel that in doing so he unwittingly has sealed his crime: “As soon as I finished, I realized what I had done: by cutting my father’s likeness out of the newspaper, I had removed him from the world.” The collection crescendoes in displays of raw creative power, as in “Eight Plots,” a rapid-fire of three- and four-sentence summaries, and the brilliant, impressionistic “!”
Blood and Soap is an arresting collection from one of a small number of writers on the vanguard of American fiction.
“A sort of Vietnamese Edgar Allan Poe for the 21st century . . . lyric qualities infuse Dinh’s short fiction. So does a mordant sense of humor, and an immigrant’s unceasing sense of not quite fitting in: not here, not there, not anywhere. . . .
Death crosshatches these pages, too, but like a punch line more often than not. In my favorite story, ‘What’s Showing?’, Dinh parodies film reviews. His versions have the Tarantino trick of making you grin when you should wince.” –Susan Balée, Philadelphia Inquirer
“The total effect of Blood and Soap is impossible to describe … It owes a certain debt to Jorge Luis Borges, but uses Borgesian metafiction and genre-bending to depict a sense of absurdity, confusion, and displacement peculiar to being a contemporary world citizen.” –Matthew Sharpe, Brooklyn Rail