Friday, January 16, 2009

The Curse of the Red Dragon * * *

book cover for the curse of the red dragonTitle: The Curse of the Red Dragon
Author: Vinny Do
Genre: crime drama
Pages: 136
Available from Lulu

Lee is a teenage boy living with his mother when he first kills a man in an initiation into one of Melbourne's underworld factions, a triad called the Red Dragon. Will he continue on his path of violence, encouraged by the dark father figure of John Lang, the triad boss, or will he bail out before he becomes like John?

Lee's home life is saddening, for it is filled with deep emotional pain. There are many reasons for this pain: he doesn't have a father in his life; he is a failure, unable to be the man of the house and take care of his mother; and he is unable to succeed in the mainstream world. Understandably, he also wants to make good in the only way that seems, to him, to make sense.

Gangster John Lang, the boss of the Red Dragon triad, takes Lee under his wing, testing him, shaping him through various assignments into a gangster like himself all the while remaining unusually gentle with the boy. But Lee's course is complicated by the desire of his heart for meaningful human contact, which he finds in the embrace of a prostitute, who listens to his story. She is the only person he opens up to, revealing to her the hole in his heart. But in revealing this he makes himself vulnerable and puts himself in danger. It also causes a problem for John, for Lee is more than just another kid to him.

The Curse of the Red Dragon presents characters with real dilemmas. A young man searching for fulfillment. A deeply flawed father who tries to make his son see the world in the way that it appears to him. And the rest of the cast whose lives are empty and flawed because they have given up on faith in love and in humanity. One of the lessons that John wants to teach Lee that love doesn't exist. His intent is to spare his son the feelings of failure and despair that come when love ends. Money is the source of power, John believes, and the only saving grace. To teach these lessons to Lee, John orders him to kill two members of a rival triad.

One thing that's missing in this book, and in many self-published books for that matter, is a better sense of place and time. Some writers may feel that by generalizing, they make their work universal. But nothing could be farther from the truth. Don Maas, in his masterful book, Writing the Breakout Novel, argues that it is the powerfully evoked sense of time and place, which creates a powerful sense of reality, that marks the breakout work from the average. I tend to agree. For example, I would like to see the place and time of The Curse of the Red Dragon more clearly evoked in the story. It would certainly add to the story's power if the reader knew more about the particulars of the life of Lee, John Lang, and the Asian world in Melbourne.

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