The unnamed narrator of "Black-Eyed Women" works as a ghostwriter, specializing in "memoirs," which tell the stories of people who survive horrific and unusual tragedies, like losing their legs in war. Her most recent project, for instance, was about the sole survivor of a plane crash, a man who lost his entire family in the crash. There's a certain irony in the fact that she works as a ghostwriter and also happens to see a ghost. She feels survivor's guilt over the death of her older brother, who was killed while trying to protect her from pirates. Her brother's unexpected return as a ghost allows the narrator to find some resolution after years of struggling with the loss. She then decides to stop ghostwriting and write her own book of modern ghost stories.
When the ghost of the narrator's brother first appears, he's soaking wet and shows himself only to his mother. Later, the mother explains to the narrator that her brother swam across oceans in order to reach them. When he reveals himself to his sister, she offers him some dry clothes. This brings up old memories of his death and how he was killed by pirates while trying to protect his younger sister from being raped. During one of their talks, the narrator asks why he died and she lived. He tells her, "You died too… You just don't know it." This upsets the narrator, but eventually leads to a moment of catharsis. One might argue that this is the reason for the ghost's return.
Victor Devoto is the sole survivor of a horrific plane crash in which he lost his wife and child. He hires the narrator to ghostwrite his "memoir." In their phone interviews, it's clear that he's haunted by the plane crash and is struggling to cope with the loss. He can sometimes feel the presence of his lost loved ones, and he's always listening for the sound of his son's voice. When the narrator asks if Victor is afraid of ghosts, he says, "You aren't afraid of the things you believe in."
"The Other Man"
Liem is a Vietnamese immigrant who is sponsored by Parrish, a San Franciscan man who worked for decades as a corporate lawyer. It's October, 1975, and Liem is fleeing the communist regime in Vietnam. He left in April, boarding a barge and arriving in Camp Pendleton, San Diego, where he awaited sponsorship. Though grateful to Parrish for giving him a place to live, Liem still becomes infatuated with Marcus, Parrish's lover, and has an affair with him when Parrish is out of town. In falling for Marcus, Liem faces some unexpected truths about his own sexuality and comes to think of the United States as a place where he can shape his own future and identity.
Parrish Coyle is a middle-aged American man and former corporate accountant who has lived in San Francisco for years. His live-in-boyfriend, Marcus, relies on him for support, and Parrish pays for Marcus to finish school. Parrish has become deeply involved in politics since leaving his job in corporate finance. It's this political activism that takes him to Washington, D.C. the weekend Liem and Marcus have a sexual encounter. It's implied that Parrish never learns of the affair.
Marcus lives with Parrish in a two-story house in San Francisco's Castro district. He's significantly younger than his lover (by a factor of twenty or more years) and relies on Parrish for support. He's the son of a wealthy rubber manufacturer and, if not for an incident in which a vengeful ex sent an unsolicited letter containing compromising photos to Marcus' father, would be able to pay his own way through school. Consequently, Marcus is the equivalent of a "kept man" and is indebted to Parrish, though that doesn't prevent Marcus from cheating on him. It's unclear whether Parrish and Marcus have an open relationship.
The unnamed narrator is eleven years old when the events of the story take place. He's the child of immigrants and has become very Americanized, even though his parents cling to their Vietnamese heritage. He's more interested in comic books and candy than working in the family grocery store.
The Narrator's Parents
The narrator's parents own and operate a little Vietnamese grocery store called New Saigon. Both of them are devout Catholics and attend church every Sunday morning before going back to work at the store. Within their relationship, the mother is clearly dominant, and the father's opinions are often ignored. Once, back in Vietnam, the mother had to bribe a general's wife in order to save the father from being drafted into the Viet Cong. This is a forbidden subject between them, something best left unspoken, like the incident with Mrs. Hoa.
Mrs. Hoa is a forty-something Vietnamese woman who, like the narrator's parents, immigrated to America to escape the Vietnam War. Mrs. Hoa is very anti-Communist and is collecting money to send to rebels fighting the communist regime in Vietnam. In some ways, Mrs. Hoa is extorting her community members by demanding funds for what seems to already be a lost cause. It's clear that Mrs. Hoa is traumatized by her experiences in the Vietnam War, so this extortion can be forgiven.
Arthur Arellano has an autoimmune disease and a nasty gambling problem. Prior to his diagnosis, he cashed out his life insurance and blew it all at a casino. This kind of irresponsible behavior led his wife Norma to leave him; but after hearing of his diagnosis she moved back in out of love and fear. When the story opens, Arthur has already had a successful liver transplant and contacted the relatives of his donor, Men Vu. This leads him to Louis Vu, who claims to be Men Vu's son. Out of gratitude, Arthur agrees to house Louis' illegal knock-offs of designer clothes. Only at the end of the story does Arthur learn that Louis is not, in fact, related to Men Vu. However, he can't turn Louis in without being arrested himself. He's stuck, and he knows it.
Louis Vu claims to be related to Men Vu, Arthur's liver transplant donor, who died in a hit-and-run. In fact, Louis is just pretending to be related to Men in order to take advantage of Arthur, who has a garage where Louis can store his counterfeit goods. It's unclear exactly what Louis' motivations are for deceiving Arthur like this. It could just be that he saw an opportunity and jumped on it. At the end of the story, when Arthur confronts him, Louis threatens to take Arthur down with him.
Norma is Arthur's long-suffering wife. In the course of the narrative, we learn that she left Arthur, having reached her limits with regard to his gambling addiction, but that she later returned to him after his diagnosis. This doesn't solve the underlying problems in their marriage, however. Norma spurns Arthur's advances and demands that he get rid of Louis' counterfeit goods. In the end, she's once again disappointed by Arthur's irresponsible behavior.
Martín is Arthur's older, more successful brother. Martín owns a landscaping business powered by the illegal immigrants he has hired. Arthur knows that Martín has been underpaying the immigrants, using them for cheap labor in order to increase his own profits, but doesn't rat on Martín.
Men Vu was an elderly widower and grandfather killed in a hit-and-run. Arthur receives Men Vu's liver. Men's daughter, Minh Vu, later contacts Arthur, revealing Louis as a fraud.
"I'd Love You to Want Me"
Mr. Khanh suffers from Alzheimer's disease. During a wedding banquet, he starts...
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