GENTLEMEN OF THE SHADE
ECW Press, June 2017
Gus Van Sant’s 1991 indie darling My Own Private Idaho perplexed and provoked, inspiring a new ethos for a new decade: being different was better than being good. Gentlemen of the Shade examines how the film was a coming-of-age for a generation of young people who would embrace the alternative and bring their outsider perspectives to sustainability, technology, gender constructs, and social responsibility.
My Own Private Idaho — fragmented and saturated with colour and dirt and a painfully beautiful masculinity — also crept into popular media, and its influence can still be traced. R.E.M. Portlandia. Hipsterism. James Franco. Referencing the often-funny and sometimes-tragic cultural touchstones of the past 26 years, Gentlemen of the Shade sets the film as social bellwether for the many outsiders who were looking to join the right, or any, revolution.
“If My Own Private Idaho seems quaint or conventional today, Lee argues, it’s because the film’s radical depiction of gender, sexuality and class instigated a new aesthetic category of the alternative. More than Gen X nostalgia, Lee is interested in how aesthetics influenced the choices of a generation. That should be of interest to us all.” — The Globe and Mail
“Lee perfectly captures the feeling of the pre-internet early 1990s and how My Own Private Idaho helped shape and define alternative culture, as well as influence the ideas and attitudes of a generation.” — THIS Magazine
ECW Press, September 2016
Named one of 2016’s 99 Best Books by The National Post
Finalist for the 2017 Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize
The Conjoined follows social worker Jessica Campbell as she struggles to uncover her dead mother’s most deeply buried secrets. Set alternately in present-day and 1980s Vancouver, The Conjoined is a literary novel inspired by crime fiction and that challenges our perceptions of victim and villain, saviour and sinner.
On a sunny May morning, Jessica sorts through her mother’s belongings after her recent funeral. In the basement, she makes a shocking discovery—two dead girls curled into the bottoms of her mother’s deep chest freezers. Immediately, she remembers a pair of teenaged sisters who lived with the family in 1988 as foster children: Casey and Jamie Cheng—troubled, beautiful and wild. After six weeks, they disappeared, with social workers and police officers assuming they had run away. Jessica becomes obsessed with these girls—their stories, their family and how they came to live—and fundamentally change—Jessica and her parents, Donna and Gerry.
Jessica struggles with grief, a job she hates and a quickly disintegrating relationship with her boyfriend as she searches for records as well as the people who loved and hurt the Cheng sisters. As she learns more about Casey, Jamie and their troubled immigrant Chinese parents, she also begins to unearth other, darker stories about Donna, whom she had always thought of as the perfect mother and foster mother. Jessica delves further into Donna’s past and discovers old and horrifying secrets, secrets that shatter what she once believed about her family and that point to the complicated truth behind Casey and Jamie’s fate.
The Conjoined is a novel that unflinchingly examines the myth of social heroism and how race and class can assign unwanted roles to society’s most vulnerable individuals and the well-intentioned social service workers who mean to help. Set in the middle-class suburb of North Vancouver, as well as Chinatown and the infamous Downtown Eastside, The Conjoined traces the often hidden fractures that can divide our diverse Canadian cities and keep their ethnic, economic and cultural communities apart.
“In the universe Lee has created, coming to the truth is more about nuance, empathy and openhearted understanding than it is about any strict, simplistic set of rules about good and evil, right or wrong. In this way, The Conjoined is a complex, refreshing and relevant departure from a well-worn approach, one that’s best tackled after surrendering your expectations.” —The Globe and Mail
“This is a page-turner—guaranteed to be read hungrily in one or two sittings—but an intensely literary one. And one that raises the spectres of poverty and exclusion.” — The Georgia Straight
“Lee is a gifted writer, telling a complicated story with depth and insight.” — The Vancouver Sun
THE BETTER MOTHER
From a master of family dynamics comes this vivid tale of two misfits who find each other while stumbling toward their own true identities.
In 1958, eight-year-old Danny Lim has been sent to buy cigarettes for his father, when he realizes that he has lost the money. Frantic, he rushes through Vancouver’s Chinatown and behind a nightclub, where he sees Miss Val, a long-time burlesque dancer. Danny is enraptured with her sequined garters and silk robe, and Val, touched by his fascination, gives him a pack of cigarettes and her silk belt.
Years later, Danny spends his days working as a wedding photographer and his nights cruising Stanley Park, far away from the home where his parents and sister live. He realizes that the key to understanding himself and his family lies in his connection to Miss Val, and he is determined to find her.
Before she became the Siamese Kitten, a major player on the North American circuit, Miss Val was Valerie Nealy, a feisty girl growing up in a rundown house beside the Fraser River. But to find the stardom she thought she wanted, she had to make a series of seemingly irrevocable decisions.
Set mostly during an unseasonably hot summer in Vancouver in 1982 when HIV/AIDS was spreading rapidly, The Better Mother brims with undeniable tragedy, but resounds with the power of friendship, change and truth. It will cement Jen Sookfong Lee’s reputation as one of this country’s finest young novelists.
“Lee is an undeniably talented writer.”–The Globe and Mail
“One of these days Lee’s name will appear on all the big awards short lists. You heard it here first.”–NOW Toronto
“An entertaining and gripping tale that will keep readers enthused.”–The Vancouver Sun
“Straight-ahead page-turning brilliance.”–The National Post
“With remarkable facility, Lee breathes life into two characters who lead lives of relative anonymity, interspersed with fleeting bursts of joy and gratification. This novel is a moving example of the ways in which memories can become ‘ghosts, clinging to the body like the anchoring threads of a spider’s web,’ and chance encounters can lead to enduring love.”–The Winnipeg Free Press
“Lee is a fine storyteller, conjuring the histories of her amiable characters and a Vancouver that remains today in the collective memory of its long-time residents. More than a nostalgic montage of times and places, The Better Mother is an evocative portrait of two lonely hearts and their synchronized longings.”–The Georgia Straight
Annick Press, February 2011
A vulnerable girl goes to extremes for love.
Abby is only in high school, but she feels responsible for holding her family together. Her father works two jobs and is rarely home. Her mom, angry about their financial woes, escapes to nightclubs with her girlfriends. When Abby meets Sean, an attractive, sensitive guy who lets her confide in him, it’s not surprising that she falls in love fast — and hard. Sure, he’s a little older, but Abby still wants a real relationship. But Abby’s first time is not at all what she imagined.
“The story succeeds as a meditation on the blurred line between the security of a shelter – be it a house, a family, or a lover — and the confinement of a trap.”–The Deakin Review of Children’s Literature
“Shelter, with its clear emotional markers and cautionary structure and intent, is … a solid offering in the series.” –Quill & Quire
TOK: WRITING THE NEW CITY
Featuring “Chill, Hush,” a short story by Jen Sookfong Lee
From Diaspora Dialogues and Zephyr Press, April 2009
“Where is here?” Northrop Frye’s classic conundrum gets a refreshing spin in TOK: Writing the New City, a luminous new anthology from Canada’s established and emerging literary voices. From Vancouver to Halifax, and Toronto to Montreal, writers, poets and dramatists explore the diverse and contemporary issues of urban Canadian lives.
TOK: Writing the New City is the fourth book in an annual anthology series published by Zephyr Press, and marks the anthology’s expansion into the creative exploration of Canadian cities beyond Toronto, including Montreal, Halifax and Vancouver.
Included in this anthology are: Anar Ali, Ken Babstock, Shauntay Grant, Rawi Hage, Jen Sookfong Lee, Daniel David Moses, Antanas Sileika, and many others.
THE END OF EAST
Spanning eighty-five years and exploring themes of isolation, immigration, romance and sanity, The End of East is an incredibly moving portrait of one emblematic family and Vancouver’s Chinatown.
Samantha Chan returns home to Vancouver to care for her aging mother, abruptly leaving an unfinished life in Montreal. Feeling abandoned by her four sisters and resentful at the city she thought she had escaped forever, she finds herself cobbling together a makeshift family history and delving into stories that began in 1913, when her grandfather, Seid Quan, then eighteen years old, first stepped on to North American soil.
The End of East weaves in and out of past and present, picking up the threads of Sam’s grandparents and parents: Seid Quan, whose loneliness in this foreign country is profound even as he joins the Chinatown community; Shew Lin, whose hopes for her family are threatened by her own actions; Pon Man’s tension between obligation and desire; and Siu Sang, who tries to be the caregiver everyone expects, even as she feels herself unravelling. Through it all, Samantha, who carries within her all the conflicts of the past, is embroiled in her own struggle, a volatile mixture of dangerous love affairs, a difficult and duty-filled relationship with her mother, and the still-fresh memories of her father’s long illness.
An exquisite and evocative debut, The End of East sets family conflicts against the backdrop of Vancouver’s Chinatown—a city within a city where dreams are shattered as quickly as they’re built, and where history repeats itself through the generations.
“Lee is a courageous young writer.”
–The San Diego Union-Tribune
“Beautifully crafted, The End of East moves seamlessly from era to era, country to country. Lee tells a provocative and deeply moving tale about how ethnic identity creates an emotional battlefield for those trying to traverse two cultures in one country.”
–The Baltimore Sun
“Only 30, Lee has crafted one of the most sophisticated and structurally complex novels published in Canada in years. Perhaps, more importantly, she has created an emotional powerhouse of a novel about a family unable to express their love for one another.”
–The Halifax Chronicle-Herald
“Vancouver native Jen Sookfong Lee’s first novel is impressive, both in terms of its accomplished prose and its ambitious three-generational scope…Lee’s talent is undeniable.”
–The National Post
“Jen Sookfong Lee is aware, it would seem, of the dark side of mythmaking, its distorting and even parasitic price. It’s one of many things that make her a novelist to watch.”
–The Calgary Herald
“With The End of East, Lee has constructed an accomplished and complex story about the intricate set of issues that surround Chinese-Canadian identity, a story that will ring true for Canadians of other backgrounds.”
–The Montreal Gazette
“Jen Lee shows off a confident style, investing The End of East with rich imagery and well-wrought characters and deftly handling the complexities of the various storylines.”
–The Vancouver Sun