Jon Chan Simpson invites readers into a world of “abductions, gunshots, commando dads, street-poet moms”, a world populated by gangs and kidnapping conspiracies.

Chinkstar Jon Chan Simpson“‘This thing – chinksta.’ She stumbled over the word, at first but pulled herself through it. ‘You’re worried this is all you got,’ she said. ‘This is all you got, and you’re not even sure it’s yours.'”

Chinkstar doesn’t offer readers a lot to hang onto: there is no security here, not for narrators and not for readers.

When a brother disappears, the foundations are that much shakier.

And not just any brother, but he was “King Kwong a.k.a, the Chink King a.k.a. Emperor Easty a.k.a. the Celestial Warrior a.k.a. Smash Hands a.k.a. Yellow Orang a.k.a. Swag Sapien a.k.a. Cloud Monkey a.k.a. the Iperial Monstar a.k.a. MC the Ape a.k.a. the Great Ape Himself, mashin muthafuckas like they’s made outta play-doh, stompin any haters, roaches running through lego”.

This is an upset, to say the least. But ironically, as prominent as he was as a character, his fame also increases the distance that readers experience, and the chaos which is left behind, in the wake of his absence, feels like a dislocation. This is not sentimental, it is surreal.

“In my world, blood stayed on the inside of people, but my world was changing, and as I caught myself in the doorframe I wondered if the whole thing had disappeared with Kwong.”

The novel is set in Red Deer,  “a crapfest – box stores, obesity, volunteerism out of control”, “crowded parkades and abandoned sidewalks and blocks of yellow grass, all the visual stank…plus the real sourness from the dairy plant downtown”. Here, again, readers feel isolated and remote.

What sets Chinkstar apart is the stylized presentation of a performer who is looking for an audience, a young man who is seeking a place, a connection, something to call his own.

He is on stage, and the performance is unsettling, but his voice is commanding. “Normal was out the window.”

Marion Milner Life of Ones OwnIn A Life of One’s Own, Marion Milner deliberately tosses her ideas about herself out the window.

The process she undertakes unfolded decades ago, but the motivation remains recognizable. Published in 1935 and reprinted by Virago Press, in 1986, her quest will resonate with contemporary readers.

“But I had found that it was not so easy to know just what one’s self was. It was far easier to want what other people seemed to want and then imagine that the choice was one’s own.”

What does Marion Milner want? What does she find satisfying? Often is it not what she expects, not what she pursues. “If just looking could be so satisfying, why was I always striving to have things or to get things done.”

This is a central element of her exploration and over time she recognizes its importance. “The act of looking was somehow a force in itself which changed my whole being.”

She is preoccupied with observing patterns and she experiments with alternate methods and approaches. “I did learn very soon how to know the signs that would tell me when I was evading an unadmitted thought –worry, depression, headache, feeling of rush and over-busyness – but it took me much longer to learn ways of finding the thought that was causing the trouble.”

This is not riveting reading for a wide audience, but for a reflective reader, partiuclarly one who is similarly preoccupied by analytical thought and interested in psychology, Marion Milner’s ruminations are of interest. And because she is also preoccupied by the question of self-expression, the care taken to clearly express her thought-process and responses is notable, as is her willingness to accept contradictions and the need for ongoing investigation.

“I was as sure as that I was alive, that happiness not only needs no justification, but that it is also the only final test of whether what I am doing is right for me. Only of course happiness is not the same as pleasure, it includes the pain of losing as well as the pleasure of finding.”

Sometimes two books collide in one’s bedside table, but in this case I expected contrast and discovered that these two disparate books were both preoccupied with questions of identity.

One work of fiction and one of non-fiction, both works consider the ways in which one questions and tests the true nature of one’s own self.