November 1, 2016: “Bound” by Aimee Phan

Good evening, Story366! Here I am, writing this post during Game 6 of the World Series, using my nervous energy to type instead of fidget, the butterflies inside my stomach eating away at me. You would think that I’d rather not be distracted by this project, or anything that requires my attention, but over this past month, since the Playoffs started, I’ve found myself soothed by the process, by having something to fill the space between pitches, between innings. I’m not sure if that’s exactly fair to the authors I write about during these games, but perhaps that’s just the nature of a personal daily blog project, the blog reflecting whatever’s going on in the writer’s life. I’ve always wanted this project to be an artifact, something that lasted more than just any particular day, or even 2016. So, Aimee Phan today will be forever tied, for me, to Game 6 of the World Series, whether she knows it or not (or likes it or not … but she’s nice, so she’ll probably be cool with it).

Cubs up 7-2, heading into the bottom of the sixth.

Today I read from Phan’s collection, We Should Never Meet, out from Picador, and yes, the author is indeed very nice. Phan came to Bowling Green to read some years ago now, not long after this book came out, and I remember her being a gracious and giving guest. She gave a great reading and everyone had a good time during her visit. I read a couple of the stories from We Should Never Meet right after that, but like a lot of books I’m covering this year, it just got lost. I read a couple more stories today, meaning I’m almost done, and for sure, I hope to finish soon. But for today’s purposes, I’ll write about “Bound,” as the title of this entry has already told you.

“Bound” features a couple of different perspectives and settings, but mainly focuses on Bridget, an American doctor who’s working in an orphanage in Vietnam during the last few years of the U.S. occupation. Other parts of the story is told from her husband Ronald’s point of view; he’s a Vietnam vet—though from the early days of the war—back in the States with their toddler daughter, Chelsea. The story starts with an attention-getter, of sorts, as Bridget is in a high-intense situation, en medias res, a Vietnamese woman at the gates of the orphanage, a fanatic, desperate crowd behind her, and she’s trying to shove her baby through to Bridget, for Bridget to take it inside, take care of it. Bridget suddenly finds herself in possession of the child and indeed sees that it’s cared for—the mother has meanwhile disappeared into the ocean of people. Not only is this scene  grabbing our attention, but it explains what’s going on in this story, what happened in the finality of this conflict: the people in the South would rather put their babies in the hands of the Americans, never to see them again, as opposed to the alternative, their babies dying, either from sickness or malnutrition, or worse, what’s coming from the North. And that’s what Phan’s entire collection is about, every story involving Vietnamese orphans—often those left behind by American G.I.s—various angles and circumstances that define this part of history.

“Bound” is about Bridget and Ronald, though, the unique perspective of Americans who are not perpetrators in this situation. Right after that opening scene, Phan backs up to the start of Bridget’s involvement, her watching the news and seeing those children suffering, in need of expert care. She is driven, immediately, to go to Vietnam, thinking at first she’d do six months, then two years, then three years, planning her departure only when Saigon is falling. Ronald, in the meantime, is raising Chelsea with the help of Bridget’s parents, who are furious with her for leaving. This is the main conflict of the story, Bridget choosing to go to Vietnam to take care of these orphans instead of staying home, taking care of Chelsea—Chelsea is the orphan now and her family is less than understanding.

Most of the story takes place in the days leading up to the American exit, scenes like that first one pretty common. Anyone who needs to get out of the South needs to get out of the South and quickly. Bridget is trying to negotiate her exit, but it’s not that simple, as she’s trying to get as many of the orphans out of Vietnam as she can. This is facilitated, somewhat, by the fact there’s American families waiting to adopt the children when they arrive, but is made harder by protests, including some from the collapsing Southern government. Phan raises the stakes and the tension when she chronicles the real crash one of the exiting refugee planes—known as Operation Babylift—making Bridget’s departure even more questionable.

Cubs up 9-2, heading into the bottom of the ninth.

I don’t want to reveal anything else about the plot, as “Bound” not only leads us to a will-she-or-won’t-she-get-out barnburner, but has some other things going on as well. There’s the several scenes from back home, as Ronald’s almost as much of a character as Bridget is (though, let’s face it, he’s not exactly in a life-or-death situation). There’s the true aspect, that this is all based on historical events, things that we don’t exactly read about in American history books. I’m also leaving out a major plot point, perhaps even a major character, as that would just spoil things too much. You should just read it. It’s a good story.

Cubs win 9-3! Game 7, here we come!

Wait, what was I saying?

Oh, right. Aimee Phan. “Bound.” Story366. Family. Health. Right.

Aimee Phan has written not only a good book, but an important one, too, sharing a piece of  little-taught history through her short fiction. Honestly, if I had to list the reasons, in order, as to why I read short fiction, “learning stuff” wouldn’t make the top five, or maybe not even the top ten. But it’s happened quite a bit this year, including today—now I know what Operation Babylift is, something I wasn’t going to get no matter how many times I watch Apocalypse Now or Platoon. As a writing prof, I like this story for it’s back-and-forth POV and structure, plus its ending, which I refuse to tell you about. All in all, I enjoyed writing this post today, enjoyed We Should Never Meet.