After publishing stories in a constellation of outlets, such as the New Yorker and N+1, Anthony Veasna So was poised to be a new literary star. When he died, at age 28 in 2020, the tributes to his talents poured in. In one, critic Jane Hu asked, “How does one write an immigrant story when the story’s very premise was designed to be distorted?”
The answer can be found in “Afterparties,” So’s posthumously published short story collection with a deceptively simple narrative structure scaffolded by social commentary and humor. Equal parts absurd and empathetic, “Afterparties” probes the complex lives of California Cambodian Americans in a style So once described as “post-khmer genocide queer stoner fiction.” The stories are slightly linked, the reverb of kin apparent through pieces like “Maly, Maly, Maly,” about a friendship between a queer teen and his beautiful best friend Maly, and “Somaly Serey, Serey Somaly,” which follows a young nurse believed to be the reincarnation of Maly’s mother. Others focus on the nexus of identity and contemporary life. In “Human Development,” a recent Stanford grad grapples with the cultural responsibility of dating another Khmer man against the backdrop of Bay Area tech’s dubious conflation with social progress.