“The Other Man” Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on January 6, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1349

Liem, an eighteen-year-old refugee from Vietnam, has been placed with a sponsor named Parrish Coyne in San Francisco. Coyne, a middle-aged British man, is distinguished-looking and generous. After meeting him for the first time, Parrish quickly comments that he didn’t expect Liem to be so “pretty” and then introduces him to Marcus Chan, a man from Hong Kong who is in his twenties. Parrish comments that Liem must have had an “awful time” before making it to San Francisco, and Liem flashes back to his recent experiences, which began with leaving his parents in Long Xuyen the previous summer. He had then worked in a tea bar in Saigon before clawing his way onto a refugee boat when trouble found him. This refugee boat had brought him to San Francisco.

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Parrish and Marcus take Liem to a car and begin the drive home. Parrish tells Liem that he and Marcus are a couple “in the romantic sense.” Liem doesn’t quite understand and at first believes that this must be another strange American idiomatic expression. He quickly realizes that this statement is not an idiom and replies that he is “liberal” and “open-minded.” In truth, he realizes that he has nowhere else to go and is dependent on Parrish’s hospitality. Liem recalls nights in Saigon where he slept in a large room full of single men and boys; the odor of their bodies filled the space as they engaged in group masturbation in the evenings. Liem wonders if the evidence of those nights still exists in his palms somewhere.

Parrish finally pulls into the driveway of the home he shares with Marcus and now with Liem; it is mauve and has a portrait of the Virgin Mary on the door. For the first few weeks, Liem is uncomfortable with the situation and wants to call the woman who placed him with Parrish to let her know she has made a mistake. However, Parrish is incredibly generous, and Liem feels shame for having such thoughts. He once again flashes back to the moments of his escape. In particular, he remembers those who tried to flee the war and were unsuccessful—those who fell into the river as they tried to climb aboard the barge and who were shot in the back by soldiers who were desperate to escape themselves. He cannot convey any of this experience through the occasional letters he sends home to his parents, knowing that the Communists will read every letter and that knowledge of his escape might make things more dangerous for his family.

When Parrish and Marcus begin having serious arguments in front of Liem, he realizes that he has been accepted as part of their household. Parrish comments that Marcus isn’t as mature as Liem, even though Marcus is the older man. Parrish confesses to Liem that although his ancestors made their money in dishonorable ways, he tries to put that money to good use; Liem realizes that he is one of the “good uses” of Parrish’s money and sense of moral obligation. Parrish refuses to allow Liem to pay rent, but Liem insists on getting a job. He obtains employment at a liquor store, working six days a week for twelve hours a day.

In mid-November, Marcus and Liem drive Parrish to the airport; he will be attending a conference in Washington on nuclear energy’s threat to the environment. After he has departed, Marcus comments to Liem that it is a “bore” to live with someone who is always “trying to save the world.” On the way home, Marcus and Liem enjoy a meal of dim sum, and Liem asks Marcus about his own family. Marcus tells him about his father, an executive who sent Marcus to study overseas so that he could return home and help run the business. While he was gone, an ex-lover sent home “candid” photos of Marcus tucked inside a love letter Marcus had written. Marcus’s father disowned him, and he now relies on Parrish to pay...

(The entire section contains 1349 words.)

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