Growing up in Stockton, Calif., in what she described as a “very, very, very, very, very loud” Cambodian American household, Samantha Lamb remembers Christmas gatherings throughout which her youthful brother, Anthony Veasna So, quietly sat at his laptop whereas cousins, aunts, uncles and different relations performed video games and talked over each other.
“It can be perceived as him receding into the background,” she mentioned in a video interview final week, “but actually, he was taking notes on us, writing his next piece.”
Lamb can see her members of the family in nearly all the younger, previous, immigrant, Americanized, queer, straight, hard-working, irresponsible, female and male Khmer American characters who seem in “Afterparties,” So’s assortment of 9 quick tales, which Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins, will launch on Aug. three. The debut assortment bought at public sale as a part of a two-book, $300,000 deal, in accordance with So’s agent, Rob McQuilkin.
Alex Torres, So’s companion, sees himself within the e book, too, since he was there with So of their San Francisco condominium by all the brainstorming, writing and revising (“You wrote these stories with me,” So wrote to Torres within the acknowledgments).
“It feels like this is like our child in some way,” Torres mentioned in a video interview.
But the discharge of “Afterparties” is an uncommon one, as a result of So died at age 28 in his house on Dec. eight from a drug overdose. His sudden dying, whose trigger has not beforehand been reported, shook members of the literary group, particularly Asian American and queer writers, who have been wanting to learn his e book and see a promising younger creator’s profession take off.
It isn’t clear which substances have been concerned. According to Torres, So had been up late engaged on the ultimate edits to his e book, and that morning, when his alarm sounded, Torres seen that So didn’t transfer. “That was when I called 911. And I just kind of knew,” he mentioned.
Torres mentioned So had been an occasional leisure drug consumer since they met whereas undergraduates at Stanford, however he didn’t all the time know when or what his companion was taking.
So’s dying is especially confounding as a result of it occurred simply as his star was rising. It additionally got here throughout a yr by which overdose deaths climbed within the United States, up almost 30 p.c in contrast with 2019, in accordance with preliminary information launched final week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Afterparties” is now poised for the form of buzzy launch uncommon for debut collections. Ecco introduced a primary printing of 100,000 copies, way over what’s typical for a e book of quick tales. Early champions embrace Brit Bennett, George Saunders and Bryan Washington, in addition to Mary Karr, Dana Spiotta and Jonathan Dee, all three of whom taught So on the grasp’s of effective arts creative-writing program at Syracuse. The e book was chosen by the author Roxane Gay for her month-to-month e book membership, and has appeared in the summertime studying suggestions of Vanity Fair, BuzzFeed, The Wall Street Journal, Time and Men’s Journal. The literary journal n+1, one of many first main shops to publish So’s work, earlier this yr created the Anthony Veasna So Fiction Prize, a $5,000 award, in his honor.
“Afterparties,” Anthony Veasna So’s debut e book, is out on Aug. three.Credit…Ecco, through Associated Press
“Afterparties” won’t be the final the world hears from So. The second of his two-book cope with Ecco was initially deliberate to be a novel, “Straight Thru Cambotown,” which So was within the means of writing.
Instead, a second e book, tentatively titled “Songs on Endless Repeat” and slated for launch within the first half of 2023, will embrace chapters from the novel in addition to nonfiction by So, together with a private essay, “Duplex,” that The New Yorker printed earlier this month.
The tales in “Afterparties” are set in California, and whereas most of the characters have lived nowhere else, the Khmer Rouge genocide casts an unmistakable shadow — generally to convey how trauma might be handed down from technology to technology, different occasions for darkly comedic impact. In “Generational Differences,” a mom who survived Pol Pot’s reign is unnerved by her 9-year-old’s “endless curiosity with the regime, the camps, the genocide. Every little detail you would demand to know, as if understanding that part of my life would explain the entirety of yours.” In “Three Women of Chuck’s Donuts,” additionally beforehand printed in The New Yorker, a father yells, “There were no ice cubes in the genocide!” when his teenage daughter drinks a glass of water.
That dichotomy, too, is acquainted to So’s sister Lamb. Among Cambodian Americans, the genocide is both a forbidden and repressed matter of dialog, she mentioned, “or they’re like my family, and every single freaking moment they get is like, ‘That wouldn’t have been in the genocide.’”
So was born and raised in Stockton, the pushed, high-achieving son of his mom, Ravy, who labored for the Social Security Administration, and his father, Sienghay, the proprietor of an auto restore store. He was the salutatorian of his highschool class (a sore topic, his sister mentioned, since So thought he missed the highest spot on a technicality), and entered Stanford meaning to main in laptop science. But he failed his courses throughout his first yr, surprising his household, in accordance with Lamb. It was round this time that he got here out to his household and was recognized as bipolar.
He switched his tutorial focus to artwork and literature, turning into engrossed with artists comparable to Diane Arbus and Mark Rothko (one in every of his and Torres’s favourite works on the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art was the panorama portray “Valley Streets,” by Wayne Thiebaud) and briefly making an attempt out stand-up comedy. After graduating, he enrolled in Syracuse’s M.F.A. program, throughout which era he took a bus to New York City and, on a Friday afternoon in 2018 that has already develop into a part of Anthony Veasna So lore, walked into the workplaces of n+1 and launched himself to its writer, Mark Krotov.
Charmed, Krotov spoke with him for 2 hours. “I love writers and I love weirdos and I love the idea of somebody just wandering into our office and making a connection that way,” he mentioned in a cellphone interview.
A day later, So despatched Krotov a number of of his tales, and n+1 printed “Superking Son Scores Again,” a couple of former badminton star now working a dingy grocery retailer, in its subsequent challenge. Krotov praised the model and specificity of So’s writing.
“You can find stories with real structural audacity that play with form, and you can find stories that offer a very intricate and thorough account of a place or a community,” he mentioned, “but that combination of formal adventurousness and this feel for the texture and the sounds and the smells of day-to-day life — I find that quite rare.”
McQuilkin, the literary agent, contacted Krotov after studying the story, asking for an introduction. After he and So met and McQuilkin signed him on, they efficiently submitted “Three Women of Chuck’s Donuts” to The New Yorker, and started assembly with publishers.
Helen Atsma, Ecco’s vp and editorial director, noticed in So “an explosive new literary talent,” she mentioned in a video interview.
“It’s rare to find someone who was doing something new,” she added. “The community that Anthony was writing about has been underrepresented in fiction.” Atsma mentioned So was concerned about “subverting tropes that he had seen in fiction about immigrant communities previously, and he wanted to turn some of that on its head. This whole community is haunted by genocide, and yet you’re also laughing out loud when you’re reading some of these stories.”
The coming publication of “Afterparties” and its follow-up e book are bittersweet for the family members So left behind.
So’s second e book, tentatively titled “Songs on Endless Repeat” and slated for launch in 2023, will embrace chapters from an unfinished novel in addition to nonfiction writing.Credit…Alex Torres
Torres, who was a university freshman when he started relationship So, finds comfort within the writing of somebody so shut that it generally appeared as in the event that they shared ideas. “Anthony was the first person I ever met in my life that I felt like really got me,” he mentioned. Since they have been each between 5-foot-9 and 5-foot-10 and wore the identical dimension shoe (9), they often shared garments, and Torres nonetheless wears So’s Doc Martens.
Lamb mentioned at one level: “I don’t want to be doing this interview with you, because he should be here doing this interview with you. He should be.”
Their father has been sleeping in So’s mattress, Lamb mentioned, and since she grew to become pregnant in February, the month So would have turned 29, her mom has urged that her child is So’s reincarnation. The thought isn’t an uncommon one in Khmer communities, however it unsettles Lamb; she, like her brother, isn’t non secular, however on the identical time, she mentioned, “I’m kind of haunted by it.”
So’s writing encapsulates such sophisticated emotions. In one in every of his tales, “Somaly Serey, Serey Somaly,” a younger nurse is haunted by one thing she has been instructed her complete life: that she is the reincarnation of a relative who killed herself after escaping the genocide. “Part of me wonders if the new generation should be allowed some freedom from the dreams of the dead,” she thinks. “But I’m also tired and don’t see any other path. I need the dreams to stop. For once, I will preserve the self I want.”