Title: Lurkers
Author: Sandi Tan
Narrator: Rebecca Lam
Genre: Domestic Noir
Publisher: Highbridge Audio, Soho Press
Source: ARC via NetGalley
Length: 10hrs, 11 min; 248p
Publishing Date: 30 March 2021

For a lot of people, reading (or listening to) new books during the pandemic has been difficult. Books — even whole genres — aren’t providing the same levels of escapism that they did before. The concept of Sandi Tan’s Lurkers sounded like something I should love: LA suburb setting, explorations of the definition of family and home, gender dynamics, class dynamics, post-riot race relations — all filtered through the gritty lens of California noir.

Lurkers follows the residents of a small suburban neighborhood just north of Los Angeles. There are the Parks: a Korean-American family who moved out of Korea Town after the 1992 riots. Mr Park is a pastor for a religion his family doesn’t know if he actually believes in and while he and his wife speak Korean, he doesn’t want his American daughters — Rosemary and Miracle — learning the language. Raymond van der Holt, a single gay man and semi-famous author, lives next door. Across the street are Ireland women: Mary Sue and her adopted daughter, Kate, who’d been part of Operation: Baby Lift out of post-war Vietnam. Mr Park’s suicide propels these neighbors on a trajectory that has them colliding in unexpected, hilarious, and even heartwarming ways.

Each window was a vignette; limited in narrative scope, and yet compelling in its immediacy.

Sandi Tan, Lurkers

Tan’s writing style combined with Rebecca Lam’s narration drew me into this story immediately. A documentarian focus on what otherwise might be mundane daily details gives the setting and characters a depth I didn’t know I was craving. And while the “villains” of this story (or at least the ones society would all agree on are bad) aren’t shocking — a drama teacher who gets too close to his students and a California version of Nabakov’s Humbert Humbert — I felt I was still experiencing their brand of menace through a new lens (especially in light of today’s sociopolitical climate). I couldn’t help but question whether or not the girls’ (as in, underage) ethnicities, and the fetishization of them, were part of what drew men to them. This is also only one of the ways power dynamics between men and women/men and girls/adults and children are explored. Tan digs into the relationships between generations, cultures, neighbors, sisters, and mothers and daughters in an unflinching and refreshing way.

Vietnam, however, refused to release her. The flashbacks returned, every bit as vivid and ferocious as they had been when she was eleven.

Sandi tan, lurkers

Sinking into Lurkers was one of the best books I’ve listened to so far this year. With so many answers to the questions of what defines family and home explored, I’m having a hard time not immediately starting to re-listen just to see what I get out of it the next time.

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