[A] remarkable début collection ... So is hardly given to stoic silences. The young people in Afterparties spill forth with language ... So skillfully conjures the rhythm of conversations ... It feels transgressive that Afterparties is so funny, so irreverent, concerning the previous generation’s tragedy ... His sentences are brusque and punchy, and there’s an outrageous, slapstick quality to his scenes. But the stories often end on a haunting note, resonating with the broader consequences of leaving or staying.
The presence of the author is so vivid in Afterparties, Anthony Veasna So’s collection of stories, he seems to be at your elbow as you read ... The personality that animates Afterparties is unmistakably youthful, and the stories themselves are mainly built around conditions of youth—vexed and tender relationships with parents, awkward romances, nebulous worries about the future. But from his vantage on the evanescent bridge to maturity, So is puzzling out some big questions, ones that might be exigent from different vantages at any age. The stories are great fun to read—brimming over with life and energy and comic insight and deep feeling.
... a deeply personal, frankly funny, illuminating portrait of furtive, meddling aunties, sweaty, bored adolescents and the plaintive search for survival that connects them. Its nine stories sketch a world of hidden histories, of longings past and present, and of a culture carving its way out of historical trauma. It is a testament to the burgeoning talent of So ... The collection lives on as an ode to the Stockton of So’s youth, to the greasy doughnut stores and boisterous auto shops where pointed questions about identity, tragedy and belonging come to life ... many second-generation readers will easily recognize their own stories in his words. But while the past colors the characters’ experiences, So’s vibrant writing is unmistakably rooted in the present. Electric, alive and transportive, Afterparties is a glimpse of a world rarely seen in literature, and of a talent gone too soon.
A deceptively simple narrative structure scaffolded by social commentary and humor. Equal parts absurd and empathetic, Afterparties probes the complex lives of California Cambodian Americans in a style So once described as 'post-khmer genocide queer stoner fiction' ... So’s writing insists that ancestral haunting and millennial snark can exist simultaneously. Parts of Afterparties read like critical race theory ... Others, like a text chain between friends ... Wise to the familiar 21st century tropes of technological skepticism and potential, it is hard not to label So a voice of his generation. His humor feels straight out of millennial media darlings like Broad City,Insecure or Atlanta, but his themes are decidedly deep, such as the impact of inherited trauma, how it gets lodged into the corners of how we love and work. And his subjects are often overlooked ... Unlike authors of most contemporary cultural trauma narratives, So doesn’t linger in a diasporic longing, the need to excavate one’s family’s past, mining it for meaning in the present. Instead, he blends this second-generation need-to-know with insight and, as So’s former agent Rob McQuilkin put it, 'survivor’s wit' ... It is this ability to make pain shape-shift into the hopeful and the hilarious that makes So’s work so compelling ... So’s stories allow the past to well up into the present without force or preciousness. Afterparties insists on a prismatic understanding of Cambodian American diaspora through stories that burst with as much compassion as comedy, making us laugh just when we’re on the verge of crying.
Witty and sharply expressed short stories ... Four or five of the stories in Afterparties are good enough that the reader senses that he had a vast amount of soul and spirit in his account, and that he’d only just begun to draw from it ... The author is at his best when he has a lot of plates spinning. A few of the quieter stories struggle to leave an impression.
... has almost no white people in it but plenty of humor ... a world dappled in patterns of light and dark humor; readers trespass, knowing that the jokes are funny but not always made for their benefit. So’s humor is free from hand-wringing over appropriateness or respectability politics. There’s only the snarky aside, which gives the reader a feeling of being privileged, in the sense of being specially chosen as a confidant ... Irreverent lines like these suggest that So trusted his reader as much as he loved his subjects. Rather than stage his characters in easily comprehensible postures, gathering them around the mythic American dream at self-serious angles, he shows them to us as they loll about in the dream’s afterparty. Here the lights are dimmer, the truths blurrier, the hangover incoming. There are no easy answers on how characters might digest communal trauma or shrug off the past, yet they continue to ask themselves the same question that closes The Shop: 'But what,' wonders the narrator, 'will we do after?'
... superb ... However fraught these situations are, though, So writes about them with an irreverence and humor that matches the youthfulness of most of his characters ... While So’s characters take various paths to find themselves, he never denies the core importance of their Khmer background ... a powerful, enduring statement in itself, evidence of how deft So was at revealing the layers of complexity within a single community.
I came to understand more about Cambodian society from any one of the stories in Anthony Veasna So’s Afterparties than I did in the years during which I regularly visited the country ... So’s book is a literary event in itself ... I approached the end of Afterparties filled with the grief and ambivalence that one feels toward the end of all great books, a kind of literary separation anxiety. But I will say this for Afterparties: I can’t think of a book I’ve read more filled with the joy of life.
There’s an incandescent quality to Afterparties ... The nine stories here explode like fireworks, flashing between humor, dislocation, and an aura of collective longing ... So’s book is so good in so many ways ... So is brilliant at tracing the lines between desire and displacement, love and weariness ... The collection as a whole...moves with the force of a novel in places, one story feeding into the next. This makes for a masterful bit of framing, in which Afterparties becomes more than the sum of its parts. For So, the build of the book, the structure of it, affirms its connections, the way each moment lingers beyond itself, and in so doing never really ends.
... leaps to life and doesn’t let go ... So grew up in Stockton, queer/Khmer, he said, and surrounded by parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and grandmothers who emigrated from Cambodia, survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime. To open the book is to invite the whole crowd in, like a party that shows up after the programmed event, when there’s nothing more to perform and everyone can be honest ... There’s technical ease in the composition of these stories ... A complex, interconnected community comes into sharp focus ... With the writing of these stories as an act of witness, the life of Anthony Veasna So is over. Nothing about that statement makes any sense. Open this book and invite the party in.
... bold and incisive ... There’s a mesmerizing quality to these nine beautifully brash, interconnected stories filled with feisty, flawed characters ... Respecting the challenges of history while simultaneously giving voice to generations, these refreshingly unsterilized stories transcend race, culture and time ... Insightful and energetic, Afterparties’ tales about the complex communion of history and identity will intrigue fans of Chang-rae Lee’s My Year Abroad and Souvankham Thammavongsa’s How to Pronounce Knife.
So’s voice shines through in each of these stories, distinct and fully realized. His style is loose and conversational, like the stories were first shared aloud between drunk friends or close family, only to later be transcribed ... characters...are described without pretension but with care, always in precise detail. The same wealth of empathy is afforded to the deadbeat dads as to the tirelessly working ones. So doesn’t let his characters off the hook, and he doesn’t put them on a pedestal, either; everyone gets a fair shake. On the rare occasions So veers from his conversational style into something more ornate, the results are startling for their contrast ... a word that comes up frequently in Afterparties—survivors. So’s characters are probing at the same questions: what does it mean to be the children of survivors? Who is Cambodian in the aftermath of diaspora? Where is our place in America? ... t’s only fitting that as Afterparties ends, So—writing through his mother’s eyes—comes to see this, too.
The profusion of coverage is enough to make anyone (or at least a contrarian like me) a bit skeptical. But less than a dozen pages into Afterparties, I understood why so many had a magnetic attraction to So’s stories ... A truly gifted writer doesn’t have to waste any pages trying to convince you that the world he created is real. They drop you into it, and you believe them ... So lovingly documents his community of 'off-brand Asians with dark skin,' investing mundane moments of lived life with an extraordinary magic. While reading, you might have to occasionally pause to admire his talent, his supernatural capacity to map a story that hits every note. As you read his stories, you live them, and at their best, you forget who wrote them and why.
If So’s Cambodian parents form the historical consciousness of his plots, then canonical American writers like Whitman and Melville and Stein form the literary consciousness of his prose ... So doesn’t try to write refugee history or trauma straight—to represent ethnic American minority experiences 'authentically.' Instead, his collection takes the difficulty of representing contemporary Cambodian American culture and turns it into its premise ... Afterparties might also be described as a book filled with knockoff memories, many of them lost in the haze of pot smoke. The final story takes place three years before So’s birth and is told from his mother’s perspective. By explicitly framing his parents’ experiences as passed down, shot through with trauma, and twice removed through their fictionalization, So acknowledges that the perversion of history is often what makes it real for its inheritors. Fiction might be the privileged site of historical forgetting, where the descendants of genocide are allowed to make it new. Other people’s fucked-up stories about traumatic loss might be a gateway drug into imagining new worlds. Sometimes, they’re even fodder for punch lines.
Extraordinary, both for its underexplored subject matter and for the fierce and funny voice detailing the lives of Cambodian Americans ... So's writing sparks with empathy and wisecracks, with insights into the complexity of human relationships and burdens of history ... This remarkable book shouldn't mark the end of So's influence on American literature, but rather the beginning.
Trained as a comic, So creates deadpan and intricate vignettes about the Cambodian American community that the uninitiated may find startling ... In portraying lives subject to multiple perils and displacements, So treats the legacy of genocide with astute nuance — as if such trauma is both integral and incidental to his characters ... The idea of renewal, through something as prosaic as doing chores, or as cosmic as reincarnation, or via bold realignment of iconic works in American literature, represents the vital core of So's fiction.
... dazzling ... In each of the nine stories, So lays out for inspection all the problems of his beloved community — from gambling and gossip to alcoholism and suicide — then embraces it all with love and compassion. It is a virtuosic performance.
The conjoined, overlapping names of story titles become incantations that preserve and hold in time the reincarnated lives each story holds ... When reading these stories, one can feel the pull of Stockton through a map not available anywhere else ... While Afterparties is grounded in its sense of place, So approached the short story as a minor form that unseats any singular understanding of Cambodian American life. For So, the short story form reflects the impossibility of representing the entirety of a community and what it has been subjected to. His work offers recursive glimmers of lives irreducible to anything like the set demographic of a 'minority' group. He playfully and incisively pushes identity and the burden of representation to the very limits of its prescriptive, essentialist logics. He risks having an earnest reader take his work too seriously...For So, pain becomes a punchline, rather than a means of claiming a recognizable minoritarian identity. So sought out the brutal, heartbreakingly funny qualities of melancholia, where the refusal to let go of what one has lost, of trauma either lived or inherited, is also a refusal to let a good joke go unnoticed. The repetition of trauma, the return to Stockton, and the reincarnation of mothers and second cousins are a commitment to the bit, a means of dragging the joke out until a reader has no choice but to laugh ... It is not that So denied how trauma shapes the lives of Cambodian Americans — the devastation of genocide looms large for his characters whether they lived through it or not. Rather, memories of fear, devastation, loss, and violence render incoherent any identitarian claim. Memories of another life in another time and place are not in service to a singular, holistic, linear, or historical narrative of the Asian diaspora writ large, but rather in service to the kinds of piecemeal, ad hoc repairs So and his father knew how to do so well ... This is what comes through in So’s writing: a love for a home to return to, held in songs that you do not and cannot sing along to but which you have nevertheless been hearing your whole life; a comfort taken for granted because it has always been there, a presence felt even from afar or at a low volume, always in the background. The nosey force of the music is an involuntary, nagging pull backward that might be perceived as regression, but actually is something more stubbornly aimless in the present. It is a near refusal of nostalgia because the loop of the familiar yet misunderstood assures that the song never ends, never recedes too far into one’s memory and instead stays literally stuck.
One of the many achievements of this exhilarating book of stories from the young American writer Anthony Veasna So is its exploration of identity — the way each tale holds questions of selfhood up to the light, and shows its many facets from every angle ... So’s talent justifies the hype ... a novelistic quality to the collection. And So’s distinctive voice is ever-present: mellifluous, streetwise and slightly brash, at once cynical and big-hearted.
So integrates Cambodian culture into his stories with a nonchalant verve, leaving transliterated Khmer unitalicized, unconcerned with decoding the honorifics of various family members for an English-speaking audience. Complex family and social dynamics play across the page in zippy dialogue and chatty, indirect speech ... Afterparties’ stories are sprawling, at times bewildering for their many narrative digressions, and consistently very funny, shot through with the kind of black humor that’s also saturated with grief. There’s a constant whiplash that happens in the text, the characters’ attention drawn repeatedly to the knowledge of what they, or their parents, have survived ... So’s stories feel alive and present. They’re meandering, too, just the way life is ... I’m struck by how dense it is, how steeped its pages are in Southeast Asian culture, which permeates the text the way incense scents every room in a house ... It is literature’s loss to have been deprived of a voice—bitterly funny, exuberantly sad—who would have loved to tell us about it.
So’s stories work in concert. Queer hookups, class division, and diasporic experience; Cambodian-owned groceries, Cambodian-managed auto shops, Cambodian-run video stores: all combine and recombine across the collection, which is not so much a novel-in-stories as a world-in-stories ... So’s stories express a fundamental ambivalence ... There’s a sadness to this collection, even at its funniest.
The stories in this book simmer ... This collection is studded with...quiet revelations, which come out of the minds of characters who are snarky, apathetic, and so wildly imperfect, you can't help but love them. Afterparties explores these characters and their tight-knit community with empathy, heart, and wicked wit.
There is a sense of sadness and loneliness in So’s writing reflective of the trauma that follows Khmer families to the United States, yet at the same time So shows great pride in his Khmer heritage. It’s difficult to read these stories and not wonder how much he could have contributed to contemporary literature beyond this collection.
So conjures literary magic in his hilarious and insightful posthumous debut ... What makes the stories so startling is the characters’ ability to embrace life and all its messy beauty despite the darkness of the past ... After this immersive introduction to the Central Valley community, readers won’t want to leave.
The protagonists of these stories grew up in California, but they are constantly aware that their parents and grandparents and aunties and uncles witnessed genocide before escaping Cambodia. This awareness manifests in different ways across the collection ...Even when these stories are funny and hopeful, an inescapable history is always waiting.
Anthony Veasna So writes with the assurance of a very experienced writer, though this volume of stories is his first book ... The stories exhibit great variety not only in point of view but also in language ... One or two stories could have been condensed ... The characters in that story are intriguing and dynamic from the moment they are introduced ... A humane imagination characterizes these nine stories ... His book is a work of singular creativity.