I rarely read author interviews. Besides the fact that I like to make my own interpretations of books, I really hate it when authors are asked where their stories come from. It’s a dumb question that adds nothing to the discussion about a book and the answers are usually banal. If the answer to the question of where a story comes from is as interesting as the answer in Jason Bucholz’s A Paper Son, I might have to revise that policy. Peregrine Long’s inspiration came from a cup of tea. Stranger still, the story he saw in that cup of tea turns out to be real.
Peregrine Long is dedicated teacher still holding a torch for his writing career. He’s mostly given up on getting published, but he takes a chance when a fellow teacher lets him know about a literary magazine that’s taking submissions. His first installment of a serialized story is accepted. All is well. At least, all is well until a Chinese American woman comes to his apartment and accuses him of stealing her family’s story. She’s angry and frightened of how this man can know so many details. How did he know that her mother, grandmother, uncle, and grandfather left to visit China in 1925? How did he know the name of the small town they were visiting? The name of the ship they took? How did Peregrine know that the grandmother was, unwittingly, her husband’s second wife?
A Paper Son gets even spookier from this point. We learn that Eva has turned up because Peregrine might know what happened to her uncle. Soon, Peregrine starts to see characters from his “story” in real life. He hears haunting violin music no one else can hear. The only cure seems to be writing more of the “story.” The narrative of the novel shifts between Peregrine and his story; the whole thing is a delightful tangle.
We never learn quite what’s going on with Peregrine and Eva and the story/not-story. Some readers will hate this, but I loved how Bucholz plays with the boundaries of fiction and non-fiction in this book. It reminds me of a book I read a few months ago, Gordon McAlpine’s Woman with a Blue Pencil. These two books reinforce my belief that fiction, once published and sent out into the world and readers’ brains, becomes real. It’s not ghosts—though there are ghosts in A Paper Son—and Peregrine is not crazy. He’s just channeling a story that’s more real than most.
I received a free copy of this ebook from Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review. It will be released 1 January 2016.