The Collective by Don Lee is a sweeping flashback. The story begins with Joshua Yoon deliberately stepping into the path of a speeding car, killing its two passengers and himself. The narrator, Eric Cho, then leads us through the events leading up to Joshua’s death, beginning with their meeting as freshmen at Macalester College. Despite knowing where the story leads, the plot is full of unexpected turns, remarkably down to the very last paragraph. You arrive at the final chapter, you learn how the pieces fall for all of the characters, and then that last paragraph adds a moving detail that makes your imagination run a few more laps. Continue Reading →
Don Lee’s The Collective is one of those books that I saw and then arbitrarily pulled down from the library shelves. Unlike the vast majority of such books that immediately end up back on the shelf, The Collective left with me in a streak of serendipity. We have been taught to never judge a book by its cover, but by the spine is obviously a-okay.
NPR cites The Collective as a member of the collegiate canon, alongside Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot (two thumbs up) and Harbach’s The Art of Fielding (on the list). You know it is a collegiate story when the characters waste no time referencing Franny & Zooey (Chapter 4). The book opens with a suicide, and then goes back in time to introduce us to three friends in their freshman year at Macalester College. They are Joshua Yoon, Eric Cho, and Jessica Tsai, three Asian-American artists. Joshua is by far the most fascinating character, and he is also the one who kills himself in the first few pages of the book. He is fast-talking, confident, and brilliant, and it is powerful to follow his life knowing he will choose to end it. The author raises questions about art, talent, race, and our closest relationships.
Bonus: This book is giving my vocabulary a refresher. Great words like sobriquet, apotheosis, and prevaricate sprinkle the pages, along with California slang that is not entirely appropriate to transcribe here.