My Year Abroad : By Chang-rae Lee : What connects the suburban reverie and the wild around the world? In a conventionally structured novel, Tiller's story of his past with Pong would somehow illuminate his present time with Val.

But Lee's real subject here is a global economy made from desires and appetites that don't transcend race and national borders as much as they exploit them, appetites that can be fulfilled because of, and not in spite of, stunning inequities.

I can't say exactly where much of Chang rae- Lee's newest novel, ''My Year Abroad,'' is set, because the narrator, Tiller Bradmon, can't tell us either.

None of this is a spoiler. The setup, by Page 3, contains enough plot for several other novels in a variety of genres, vivid sketches of the worlds when capital crosses borders and the people lost when the deals holding those worlds together fall apart.

The novel is much like Tiller himself, a strangely meek yet cocky young men who tells his story with a pace of someone setting you up for a scam.

It is a bold reworking of the bedroom community novel established by John Cheever and John Updike, perhaps even a satire of it, the title a wink of at both Tiller's skipping school, John Hughes-style, and the international nature of the book, with its panoply of complex characters who make mockery of other writers attempts to diversify their fiction.

Tiller is Lee's modern American Everyman : 20 years old, one-eighth Asia, and referred to depending where he is in the world, as hapa, haole and farang - mixed, nonnative, white.

Pong is a puckish Chinese-American chemist and superfood entrepreneur whom Tiller met while caddying. He is one of the most fascinating characters in the novel, the son of two artists who fell out of favor during the Cultural Revolution.

His own art is in flavors, but his true talent is that he can tell people exactly what they need to hear in order to get their cooperation, something Tiller admires but doesn't realize is dangerous to him until it is too late.

By the time Tiller meets Val. he is desperate to trade in his globe-trotting adventures for a quiet life in a sleepy American subdivision. VeeJ, at 8, is the child-prodigy chf you brag about to the neighbourhood listserve, which his mother indeed does - risking their witness protection status.

As a picturesque goes, it is an intimate one, the plot created out of Tiller's compulsion to ''latch on'' - a truth about Tiller that Pong reveals to him, and that and that Val exploits. It is also then a book about how people try to recreate their oldest family patterns again and again, sometimes even succeeding.

Within the novel's curious design, what might have counted as a climax, and therefore the narrator's awakening, comes just before the story begins, liberating the novel from it and making room for another quieter resolution.

On the penultimate page, he and Val attend to their day's housework, and he offers us something like a prayer to keep his life just as it is.

''I want to keep us planting and not worry about a harvest,'' Tiller tells us. ''The bounty is here already. It's in our joint earth tilling, our basketball dribbling , in our melodic low-down humming, and in our vigorous eating and drinking and -

And it finds sudden contour in random, lovely things like the meringue Victor Jr, can froth to a Himalayan peak, or the warmed dent Val leaves in her pillow, the buttery smell of her hair threaded deep in the flannel.......This is the world I want to shape myself to; this is the world I want to shape me.

When Val asks him if he's all right, he's shaken; she doesn't ever ask him that. The novel undergoes some final transformation, revealing itself to be a manifesto to happiness - the one found when you stop running from who you are.

The World Students Society thanks review author Alexander Chee.


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