Starting just a few weeks ago, any time a person utters a lie, water falls down from the sky onto them. It could be a light mist or a strong pour–it all depends on the strength of the lie. It isn’t necessarily the drench that cause great anxiety for Matt, the narrator of John Chu’s short story, it’s the idea of letting a lie slip out. He is keeping secrets and showing the truth is causing him great angst.
It is Christmastime and like many families, Matt’s is no different. He is invited to his parents’ house, where his sister, her husband, and her in-laws will be staying as well. Now over 30, Matt’s parents–described as traditional Chinese parents–are often poking him about when he will marry and give them a grandson. The problem, however, is that Matt has a boyfriend, Gus, and his family knows nothing about this. Even though he hasn’t outed himself, Matt takes Gus with him to the family Christmas.
There is much anxiety in this story, but Chu still maintains a level of humor about it all. When the two men arrive at Matt’s parents’ house, they are met with a bustling home readying itself for a large feast. Everyone speaks at least two languages, but the entire group doesn’t share one common language to converse in. When Matt realizes the trouble of it all, he thinks, “Repeatedly slamming my head against the handrail now would send the wrong message, so I don’t.” Besides being lost in translation, Chu occasionally places the original Chinese into dialogue, including retaining the characters and not transliterating into English. This makes the reader also feel lost like the characters.
Matt’s parents are not as stereotyped as one might first think when they are told that the characters are “traditional Chinese.” They are more layered, especially his mother, something that Matt learns throughout the story as he worries about revealing his relationship with Gus.
The idea of water falling on liars is an interesting one. Matt explains ways people have gone about getting around the possible waterfall, but these are not foolproof. People might still know that you lie.
“Phrasing things in the form of a question. That and weasel words work as insurance against the water that falls from nowhere. They just make it extremely obvious that you’re hedging against the truth.”
The added dread of being totally soaked with even the smallest white lie is enough to add panic. I really enjoyed this being a foreboding presence. However, it would’ve been nice to see the author use this hook a little more. After a while, it felt merely like that–a hook. Yet, it was quite an interesting take on the idea of a dreaded family gathering. Chu was able to use the device somewhat to show characters’ actual meanings beneath their words. However, this fantastic concept and John Chu drawing Matt with struggles sprinkled with humor were delightful.
According to the author’s bio, he “designs microprocessors by day and writes fiction by night.” I’m sure he is extremely happy to have this story nominated for a Hugo Award this year. In honor of the nomination, the publisher has just provided a free e-book edition and it can also be read in its entirety online and through Zola Books.