The Collective: Don Lee and Asian America

Melody Erhuy (originally posted on 03/16/2013).

Don Lee’s The Collective was more relatable than I thought it would be. Not identifying as an Asian American, I thought that this novel would be a good novel, but not one I can find myself in. By following Eric, the narrator, through the course of the novel, I was able to find commonalities with some of the characters. Moreover, the most relatable and interesting things I found in this work was the writing itself – Lee’s choices in wording and introducing plot lines was intriguing for me as a Literary Journalism major.

Beginning with Joshua’s suicide, Lee chooses to write plainly about his death. Not vying for emotion in his hook, the author uses unexpected words to describe Joshua’s death in a brief manner. “[…] The man and the little girl were slowly dying inside the car. Joshua was luckier, if one could call it that. He landed on his head on the asphalt, and the blunt-force trauma to his brain killed him instantly.” (14) The choice of using words like lucky, joy, and relief lighten the mood of the introduction, illuminating suicide as a stressless option in life. This disillusionment shows more about Joshua – his character is perplexed, one who portrays an exterior that is much different, almost opposite, to his interior (like showcasing suicide as relief instead of a tragedy).

I also appreciated how Lee gave women so much unexpected power in The Collective. Normally powerless, women are generally the damsels in distress instead of the assertive decision-makers. Jessica, however, breaks those boundaries of the atypical woman: “‘Let’s just fuck,’ she said. ‘What?’ ‘Let’s just do it once and get it over with. […] Do you need more foreplay? More courting and romancing?'” (131-132) Women are usually the ones who are courted, wined and dined in today’s society, and appease to every romantic cliche imaginable. Men are seen in society as the less romantic types, the ones who have their eyes constantly on the prize waiting for them in the bedroom. I appreciated this reversal of roles, the woman as the sexual-eyed partner trying to entice the male, as it not only breaks down Asian American stereotypes, but gender roles and assumptions as well. This strong female lead was interesting to see as it was unexpected (in a good way), and qualities such as these made me connect and appreciate this novel for more than just a good storyline.

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