“Heartbreaking, sexy, and frequently funny.”—Stephan Lee, Entertainment Weekly
In 1988, Eric Cho, an aspiring writer, arrives at Macalester College. On his first day he meets a beautiful fledgling painter, Jessica Tsai, and another would-be novelist, the larger-than-life Joshua Yoon. Brilliant, bawdy, generous, and manipulative, Joshua alters the course of their lives, rallying them together when they face an adolescent act of racism. As adults in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the three friends reunite as the 3AC, the Asian American Artists Collective—together negotiating the demands of art, love, commerce, and idealism until another racially tinged controversy hits the headlines, this time with far greater consequences. Long after the 3AC has disbanded, Eric reflects on these events as he tries to make sense of Joshua’s recent suicide.
With wit, humor, and compassion, The Collective explores the dream of becoming an artist, and questions whether the reality is worth the sacrifice.
Lee (Yellow) usually writes about pairs of men brothers, friends, cops, writers, often polar opposites but here develops a mixed triad, as narrator Eric Cho and the tyrannical Joshua Yoon, both aspiring novelists, befriend dormmate Jessica Tsai, a painter/sculptor. Macalester College freshmen; Eric is a good guy trying to remain so in the face of the overbearing Joshua, whose uncompromising views on everything from literary standards to their responsibilities as Asians, cripple him. When Eric has a torrid affair with an Irish Catholic girl named Didi O Brien, Joshua disapproves in withering terms. After grad school, Joshua, Eric, and Jessica reunite to form the 3AC, the Asian American Artists Collective, living together in Joshua s house in Cambridge, Mass. Joshua s stories begin to be published, Eric languishes at a small literary magazine, and Jessica wins an exhibition grant from the Cambridge Arts Council. When her obscene sculptures cause a civic uproar, the 3AC dissolves in rancor, and tragedy ensues. The issues Lee wrestles with are clear: not only the sacrifice one must make to be an artist, but the melancholy burden of unfulfilled dreams. Questions of racial identity permeate every page, but apart from a lot of sex, there is too much telling and not enough showing. The author s themes overload his slight story with spineless characters unable to bear their depressive weight.