March 29, 2013

Love Sandwiches by Annie Zhu

They tasted like childhood, not that I remember my mother ever making them or my ever eating them. In any case, they tasted like somebody's childhood.
from "Love Sandwiches" by Annie Zhu

I was given a complimentary copy of this short story in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis: A shopgirl volunteers to hand out sandwiches to the homeless, but helping others does not eradicate her self-hatred. After every act of charity, her long-distance boyfriend Paul suffocates her with his unconditional love

Between running into a childhood friend who has reinvented herself as a music video vixen, and confronting an unhinged homeless man, her evening snowballs into a night of self-destruction. 

Set in Toronto, Canada, this 6,300-word literary short story is about the nature of giving and receiving love . . . and sandwiches. 

Review: At first read, this was an interesting story about a girl volunteering to do good, but not necessarily living a lifestyle that reflects an interest in doing good per se. Intertwined into the story is the narrator's experience running into an old acquaintance who has reinvented herself into a glamorous, albeit shallow, music video dancer. I enjoyed the story but didn't get anything really powerful from it until I attempted to explicate it from a literary perspective, which I think is important for most short stories. When an author gives a small sampling of literature, they often pack a powerful punch in the symbolism since they don't have as much time to drive a story home with the plot. At first read you may miss some of the nuances, so I want to encourage readers to really dig into the short stories that you read. This review includes some of my explication of this short story, which may not be what the author intended, but it's what I got out of it. 

The story of the narrator volunteering to help the homeless (somewhat begrudgingly) and the story of Tranh, the narrator's high school acquaintance and her metamorphosis differ so much that my first question is why is it important that these two experiences are in the same story? The author never specifies why the narrator chooses to go feed the homeless, but based on her honest reaction of discomfort, I will assume she's motivated by a need to feel good about herself. This assumption is reinforced by other things that happen, but I don't want to spoil the story. Similarly, I feel that Tranh befriended the narrator in high school superficially for her own selfish reasons; she didn't want a friend (evident in the fact that she doesn't keep in touch with or recognize the narrator years later) but she does want to therapeutically unpack her past to the narrator. The narrator and Tranh both give away these "love sandwiches", which I think symbolically stand for self-serving donations (in their cases of time and energy) disguised as love; however, both women have encased themselves in a superficial shell that it's impossible to actually experience love until they've stepped outside of this shell. 

Now hopefully the Annie Zhu doesn't read my review and think I'm way off; or, if she does, she'll somehow identify with where I'm going here! And my examination of both main characters is just the tip of what's in this story. I think if you take the time to not only read it, but explicate it yourself, you might not only find a fascinating story of self absorption versus selfless love, but you might even find truth about yourself among the pages. I think if a reader can discover at least a shadow of self truth, it's a sure sign of a powerful short story. While I think this book falls a little short of 5 stars, I definitely recommend reading it so that you can discover your own truths in it. 

Bottom Line: The price on Amazon right now and the length give you absolutely no excuse to read this short story immediately! I definitely think this is a story anybody and everybody can read and enjoy! 4/5 stars.

About the Author: Annie Zhu was born in Nanjing, China, and moved to Canada at the age of seven. She has a BFA in Film Studies from Ryerson University and a MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia. She lives in Paris. 

1 comment:

  1. I appreciate your in-depth review of this short story! Great work as always.


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