Along the y-axis

Pub date December 24, 2008
SectionArts & CultureSectionLiterature


By Lily Hoang


336 pages


Lily Hoang’s Parabola is the kind of text that solicits a rereading, but you aren’t dutifully bound to return to its beginning. Instead, you can rewind to the middle and branch out both forward and backward, deciphering chapters that match up along the Y-axis of the titular structure.

This novel — or un-novel, since it’s the winner of Chiasmus Press’ Un-Doing the Novel Contest — stops at disparate intersections to tell its stories. Hoang has created an experimental work that communicates with the reader through fragmentary exchange. Whereas some postmodern narratives feel stale due to their headiness, Parabola manages to include heart and humor within an innovative, interactive storytelling style. It chronicles the inner life of a first-generation American daughter of Vietnamese immigrants. The resulting so-called coming-of-age story explores the gap between expectations vs. reality, incorporating numerology, myth, astronomy, and other mystical wonders in the process.

Reminiscent of Nabokov’s Pale Fire, Parabola features similarly beautiful and elaborate word games, such as an entire paragraph alliterated with the letter B that corresponds to quadratic form. Hoang’s novel has a similarly dizzying effect, frequently compelling you to flip from one chapter to a parallel one 100 pages prior. But it stands alone, challenging categorization by presenting holes filled with words (surrounded by black matter) and playful collaborative components like personality tests and even a Word Find. (Michelle Broder Van Dyke)