All Roads Lead to Blood, by Bonnie Chau. Santa Fe Writer’s Project 2040 Books Awards, September 2018. 166 pages. $15.00, paper.
The Wolf was a Wolf, and had an innate wolfishness, which manifested itself in his longing to devour The Pretty Girl, tear her apart and slurp her down whole.
All Roads Lead to Blood is a collection of loosely linked short stories from Santa Fe Writer’s Project’s 2040 Books Prize winner Bonnie Chau. Each story plays with themes of race and otherness, carnal desire, loss, and violence. While there are many real-life situations reflected through the book, it is Chau’s ability to deftly capture the supernatural in the everyday that sets this work apart from other collections. As the reader moves into and away from the bleakness of everyday life, some enigmatic character or entity enters to reminds us that underneath the mundane outer-coating of real life is an unreal center. It is the surreal elements of these stories that make Chau’s writing so engaging.
The protagonists in this bestiary never meet but are still very much entwined. So, who are the creatures in this book? They are women: sexual, confused and questioning, metropolitan, they speak Chinese and English and French, slightly sad but still moving, moving. They are animal, always pacing between desire and dignity. They are all young and struggle with the idea of ‘being good’. Surrounding these women are wolves, ghosts, and doubles, and other amorphous monsters creeping in from the corners of their cities.
Ultimately, these stories explore relationships between women and the men around them. The relationships are violent, both explicitly and implicitly. While sometimes the women are literally being hunted like in “The Burgeoning” and “The History of Your Very Body,” other times they become the hunter:
It was a hot, sticky world inside those pants. The woman couldn’t wait, was dying for that first penetration, she was wet, but further, deeper inside, and first, as she pulled the tip of his penis inside her, it rubbed, sticking, full of friction, resistance, like rubbing two erasers together. But she could feel the dripping, the coating, that waited further in, and, Hey, he said, easy. She liked that, that he said this, as if she was out of control. She was out of control. She would swallow him whole, down there. He would come out the other end a moth, dusty paper wings fluttering form her mouth, a gray powder left on her lips.
Chau’s brand of feminism is strong but still, without need for posturing. The sentiments expressed in this novel oscillate between sadness and fuck-it-all. Many millennials will be able to relate to the pursuit of ‘modern love’ evinced throughout All Roads Lead to Blood. There is a quiet but raw power within these lines. Chau reminds me of the subtle rawness of Tina May Hall combined with hints of Can Xue experimentation and a dash of Roxane Gay social commentary. All Roads Lead to Blood is a strong offering that masterfully explores both the power and the pain of female sexuality:
The huntress had been eager to agree to this exchange of languages, the giving and receiving of passports between worlds. Be gifted the gift to fuck all else. In the eyes of the huntress, the access to huntress blood was as close as she would ever get to being rid of her skin, the skin of a girl.
Bring me a snip of a puppy’s tail, some snails, some entrails, rusted nails. The taste of animal is all blood, all texture. No girls allowed, no nice, no sugar, no spice.
Her salivary glands throbbed, filled.
Jesi Buell is the Managing Editor of KERNPUNKT Press.