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Formats
Paperback Details
  • 10/2020
  • 9781732277441
  • 231 pages
  • $9.95
Ebook Details
  • 10/2020
  • B08LL87BMS
  • 231 pages
  • $3.99
Isham Cook
Author
The Mustachioed Woman of Shanghai
Isham Cook, author
It is the Shanghai of courtesans and concubines, danger and decadence, updated to 2020. American expat author Isham Cook has disappeared. His last known history is chronicled by an exotic woman who seems right out of 1930s Shanghai herself, Marguerite, a mustachioed Afghan-American who weaves Persian rugs and deals in psychedelics. As she tells it, Isham's story all began with Luna, a beguiling but troubled Chinese woman who happens to have a mustache herself. Also vying for Isham's affection is the charismatic Kitty, who conspires to entrap him in a cyberweb of obsession and betrayal. Fans of Cook's fiction will recognize in this psychological thriller set in modern China his signature world of startling plot turns in an unsettling yet compelling landscape of ideas.
Reviews
Novelist and essayist Cook (The Kitchens of Canton), an American living in China, explores the 2020 version of the old Shanghai world of courtesans, concubines, and drugs in his latest. The sometimes-narrator and lead character is Isham Cook, an expat American author who has gone missing. He’s obsessed with hirsute women (“The ultimate sexual fantasy for Isham was a woman with breasts and fully functioning penis, and beneath the scrotum, a fully functioning vagina. And of course, a mustache”), including vibrant (and troubled) Communist Party worker Kitty and his book translator Luna, who is portrayed as a loose cannon throughout. Also in his universe: Afghan-American rug (and drug) dealer Marguerite, who—like the others—sports a mustache.

Reading somewhat like a fever dream, the narrative unevenly skips from story lines to academic examinations of polyamory and polygamy written directly to the reader, and from China to the American Midwest. In China, there’s the at-times stalkeresque Luna, the massively judgmental Isham, and the well-educated, mercurial Kitty; stateside, in Wisconsin, there’s laid-back, blues-loving Jim, a friend of Isham’s who’s ex-Navy, and Marguerite, who bounces between Asia and the U.S. On both continents, mind-altering drugs are consumed freely and all parties are driven by sex—whether it’s erotic massage, swinging, or straight missionary—much of which references Isham’s book on erotic massage. (“Isham’s publication was not a guide and it lacked illustrations. It was something else altogether, an essay collection and a travelogue, but above all an exegesis, with massage the master metaphor for the inextricable relationship of all things therapeutic and all things sexual.”)

The author mixes clever and imaginative turns of phrase throughout (“Gambling had about as much appeal to Isham as a methamphetamine addiction; the casino atmosphere was as menacing as a mental hospital”), but his characters are not fleshed out enough for readers to feel much emotional connection to them. As well, the plot meanders, there is a lot of telling and less showing, and Kitty’s improbable amnesia feels contrived. Still, lovers of quirky, erotic mysteries will enjoy Cook’s words.

Takeaway: Readers who enjoy quirky, erotic mysteries will savor this tale of love, sex, mystery and revenge.

Great for fans of: Franz Kafka, the Marquis de Sade.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: B
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: B
Marketing copy: A

Formats
Paperback Details
  • 10/2020
  • 9781732277441
  • 231 pages
  • $9.95
Ebook Details
  • 10/2020
  • B08LL87BMS
  • 231 pages
  • $3.99

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