Kingston’s Tripmaster Monkey

Kingston, Maxine Hong. Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book. New York: Knopf, 1989.

A Chinese American hippie living in the San Francisco Howl trials. Well, belatedly.
Kingston is one of my favorite writers, her narrative style and adroit asides are masterful. She’s also an elementary school teacher in Hawaii. Like all her books, this one is an exceptionary contribution to American Literature. Honest, and doesn’t give a fuck about fiction conventions, except that her novels expose the lived experience of a minority.
The protag, named after Walt Whitman, is a poet/playwrite with great ambition, but also as bohemian as hell. He’s overly sensitive to being termed a “Chinese-American”, like when his favorite author asks him where a good Chinese restaurant is. He lives a fanciful life, blessed with a “second vision,” he’s a true “Tripmaster Monkey”, marrying a Caucasian girl and then wondering where this Chinese girl is the next day, overtly calling her his “second love,” though he thinks he loves her. The story is insane, each episode is sometimes devoted to five minutes, sometimes to three months, and there are constant narrative interruptions by Kingston herself, commenting on her character’s idiosyncrasies. Finally the story ends with a diatribe about the way Asian Americans are treated as exotic representations of their race, of which they are always alienated from anyway.

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