The Confessions of a Number One Son

The Confessions of a Number One Son: The Great Chinese American Novel

Frank Chin
Edited with an Introduction by Calvin McMillin
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 280
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt13x1k07
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    The Confessions of a Number One Son
    Book Description:

    In the early 1970s, Frank Chin, the outspoken Chinese American author of such plays asThe Chickencoop ChinamanandThe Year of the Dragon, wrote a full-length novel that was never published and presumably lost. Nearly four decades later, Calvin McMillin, a literary scholar specializing in Asian American literature, would discover Chin's original manuscripts and embark on an extensive restoration project. Meticulously reassembled from multiple extant drafts, Frank Chin's "forgotten" novel is a sequel toThe Chickencoop Chinamanand follows the further misadventures of Tam Lum, the original play's witty protagonist.

    Haunted by the bitter memories of a failed marriage and the untimely death of a beloved family member, Tam flees San Francisco's Chinatown for a life of self-imposed exile on the Hawaiian island of Maui. After burning his sole copy of a manuscript he believed would someday be hailed as "The Great Chinese American Novel," Tam stumbles into an unlikely romance with Lily, a former nun fresh out of the convent and looking for love. In the process, he also develops an unusual friendship with Lily's father, a washed-up Hollywood actor once famous for portraying Charlie Chan on the big screen. Thanks in no small part to this bizarre father/daughter pair, not to mention an array of equally quirky locals, Tam soon discovers that his otherwise laidback island existence has been transformed into a farce of epic proportions.

    Had it been published in the 1970s as originally intended, The Confessions of a Number One Son might have changed the face of Asian American literature as we know it. Written at the height of Frank Chin's creative powers, this formerly "lost" novel ranks as the author's funniest, most powerful, and most poignant work to date. Now, some forty years after its initial conception,The Confessions of a Number One Sonis finally available to readers everywhere.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-5455-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Editor’s Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-38)
    Calvin McMillin

    Whether made or born, Frank Chin came into the world on February 25, 1940, in Berkeley, California. As fate would have it, 1940 was an auspicious year for Chin to be born: not only did it fall in the Year of the Dragon according to the Chinese calendar, but it was also a significant year for Chinese America in general. After all, in that very same year California was the birthplace of two other prominent Chinese American figures of the twentieth century: Bruce Lee and Maxine Hong Kingston. While all three of these individuals have their admirers and their detractors,...

  5. Prologue
    (pp. 39-42)

    The Great Chinese American Novel—mine! mine!—two pounds of manuscript I threw into a cane fire. I stomped the ground, whooped, and waved my arms, working up nothing but a sweat. It was the fire I liked. Anything that burned was fine. I threw money into the fire, Kleenex out of my pocket, even my shirt. Eight years of holding my head in my hands, staring at the typewriter, of beating on myself, squinting at the page, eating strange combinations of hard candies, drinking hotplate coffee, and leaving women scratching at the door. The best of my life, the...

  6. 1 Maui, the Valley Isle
    (pp. 43-57)

    After the fire, I settled down to working just enough odd jobs on the sly to pay the rent. I was collecting unemployment, writing (but not a writer no more), reading, watching lots of television, and creaming my pants whenever an old Marilyn Monroe movie shimmered out of the electric skyblue to light up the screen. A whole life in one room. That was my Hawaii. If not Marilyn Monroe movies, then bra commercials and old musicals with lines of chorus girls flopping their little boobs inside loose silk brought on the cream and tingle. Such was my sex life....

  7. 2 The Daughter of Charlie Chan
    (pp. 58-71)

    I felt a little sick. Her wet and cold were in my body now, heading for my marrow. I clutched at damp sheets with my hands and curled my toes as her tongue shot off gangs of motor nerves like points ringing up bells and lights on a pinball machine. I would be leaving soon. Out of here. On my way. Gone. I wanted a hot toasted cheese sandwich. All the senses of my body were mounting to receive a toasted cheese sandwich. All the nerves of my stomach glowed warm, humming the glorious, probing, deep creeps of cathedral organ...

  8. 3 My Old Man
    (pp. 72-100)

    When I took my father to the courthouse to testify against the kid who had run into his car and killed my mother, it was a Monday, and not as cold as my father made it look. He was scared. I wanted to hurt him.

    We parked in the lot under the freeway. It was cold under the concrete freeway, full of echoes on the bounce between the underside of the freeway high above our heads and the tops of empty parked cars. It sounded like a bowling alley under there as we walked toward the courthouse. Even on a...

  9. 4 Charlie Chan
    (pp. 101-113)

    A long-toothed former Charlie Chan was the nearest thing to a friend I had here. He was the father of the only forty-three-year-old ex-nun I ever fucked. The first woman I’d fucked in Hawaii and the first I’d ever fucked on a sandy beach. I looked like a native. I didn’t walk or talk Hawaiian. Looking like I should be, but not talking beer-belly, punch-drunk, cute island pidgin and treated like you’re someone late to the meeting, everybody stopping their eating and good time to look at me hard as soon as my accent’s out of my mouth. I was...

  10. 5 Edgar Allan Poe
    (pp. 114-146)

    Way after midnight, the TV above the bar was on. All the Maui relay stations had signed off. Nothing but dots on every channel. Sizzling, humming dots. Now and then, a shape seemed to break through, like an old man in an overcoat coming at me through a late-afternoon snow. I have done everything to tune my body’s electricity, my high-kicking brain waves to the mysterious TV signal that comes to me every night this late. And I ask for my old Charlie Chan. For this is the hour for old organ music and groaning brass. And the shape begins...

  11. 6 Moby Tom
    (pp. 147-163)

    My head hung back face-up off the top of the chair. I was staring at the ceiling, and snoring too, I think. I’d just leaned my head back to stare into the clatter of the rain and to listen to it dropping its sound down onto my face. Pouncing on me. And I must have dozed off, for his voice rose in me from out of a sweet dream of my wife, turned it bad, and filled me with delight and disgusting, sickening passions I can’t believe were really mine.

    I couldn’t get away from the voice by sleeping myself...

  12. 7 The All-Oriental Bambi
    (pp. 164-200)

    My long white upper teeth sliced down through crackling meringue into the silent, cold lemon shimmer of a much drooled-after, town-to-town wished-for lemon meringue pie. It was like my teeth were little cars, and I was in them, driving, being felt up by the hum of rubber tires rolling a smooch down the street. I grinned these teeth and sent them sinking up to the gums in lemon meringue pie, bringing Sarah, Jonah’s wife, back to me. With the monsterest sour lemon ever—lemons touched with the wildest, coldest, sour of deep lemon soul—she made a lemon filling that...

  13. 8 Georgia on My Mind
    (pp. 201-221)

    I and everybody from the dump put up a fence around the parking lot behind the Greasy Chop Suey. We built a boxing ring, and we trained Charlie Chan to box out in the sunshine every day. Everybody was there, even Jonah and his two vicious caricatures of Sarah—the blonde eighteen-year-old girl we both had loved when we were twenty and he had married three years later. It had been a perfect romance for all of us. All joy. No broken friendships. No broken hearts. They had three kids. Then one day Sarah didn’t love Jonah anymore. That Christmas,...

  14. 9 Charlie Chan on Maui
    (pp. 222-227)

    “It’s raining, gentlemen,” Charlie Chan said, and crashing gobs of rain were the light silhouetting him. He stood with his hand on the door handle and stared out the glass into the street and the rain out there. It fell on his driver and his black limousine and the brass band dressed in uniform white duck and Panama hats with the brims snapped up. The rain made their Panama hats bulge at the crown. They looked like they were being endlessly poured out of spittoons. The rain dumped on the majorette and the rented elephant whose neck she was riding....

  15. 10 Bruce!
    (pp. 228-235)

    I was scared and didn’t know what was happening. The whole moment was alien to me. Everything was too quiet. I could hear everything around me for thousands of miles. Nobody in all of the Hawaiian Islands said a word. The ships at sea were quiet. San Francisco was faint in the distance. I heard rain in the Sierras. I love to come awake to the sound of rain, I remembered and thought how cool the rain would feel on me right now.

    I don’t remember falling asleep. I came home from Charlie Chan’s last Maui fight to turn on...

  16. 11 To Die in Chinatown
    (pp. 236-247)

    Tonight was my night. I never think of goodbyes ’til I’m deep into saying them. And I verge, bulge, and shine a bubble of tears over my eyes. I think I look like a frog or some pop-eyed fish. And Peter Lorre comes to mind just before I cry. I’m saying good-night and goodbye to the actors of my play after its last Maui performance. Lily was right. I held court for a long moment of the cast party. Gravelly Lake Ponders, who played Johnny the teenage thug, said he didn’t care if he got aced out of a part...

  17. 12 The Chinaman
    (pp. 248-262)

    From the instant the first yellow stepped off the boat and set foot on San Francisco soil in awestruck, “What the fuck am I doing here?” shock, wondering “Where am I?” Ah-What’shisname—some seasick, greedy, Cantonese brute, our most illustrious ancestor, Chinaman Number One—invented Chinese America with his foot. That foot was our good news, brothers and sisters. That foot is our heart. The run of those stepping feet is our heartbeat dancing over New York City dogshit. Smell your feet, brothers and sisters, and get in touch with your Chinaman heart. Looka me! Looka me! Long. Longtime Californ’!...

  18. Epilogue
    (pp. 263-264)

    My new daughter’s name will come to me, as in some dream, I know once again as we pass Port Costa before Rodeo and Hercules on the line.

    Ride with me.

    And down to twenty miles an hour into a world of different sounds, our flesh still rings with sixty. The quick freeze of things is out of our eyes. We can see laundry on the line flap and sway. We can smell the shape and depth of the odors move past us and leave even a little sniff of oily fried eggs in the cab. We’re so slow now....

  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 265-273)