What does the world lose when a gifted writer dies young? In the case of Anthony Veasna So, who died in December at age 28, reportedly of a drug overdose, we’ll never have the blazing works that were sure to follow “Afterparties,” his debut story collection that leaps to life and doesn’t let go.
So grew up in Stockton, “queer/Khmer,” he said, and surrounded by parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and grandmothers who emigrated from Cambodia, survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime. To open the book is to invite the whole crowd in, like a party that shows up after the programmed event, when there’s nothing more to perform and everyone can be honest.
There’s technical ease in the composition of these stories, many set over some 23 years in a Central Valley city hit hard by the recession. The speakers, queer and straight, are stalled-out, hyped-up, jubilant and remorseful. A complex, interconnected community comes into sharp focus. Some of the characters reappear, related by blood, rivalry or marriage.