‘Bullets’ insights are right on target

Yoko Kuramoto-Eidsmoe, The Seattle Times

October 14, 2001

The thing that will make people pick up Kip Fulbeck’s Paper Bullets is that it’s about a guy who grows up hapa (half-Asian) in America. But that won’t be what leaves the deepest impression.

What stays with you is his startling honesty and dead-on observations. The California filmmaker and English professor’s “fictional autobiography” is pitch-perfect on what it’s like to grow up in a family of Asian-American overachievers: “No one ever talks about the suicides, the homosexuals, the divorcées, or the B+ students.”

In a viciously funny chapter, he skewers a “rice chaser” ex-girlfriend, “one of those I-wish-I-wasn’t-white kind of people who desperately search for something ethnic in their lives. Foods. Customs. Clothing. Lovers.”

During their first bedroom encounter, she urges him to “Tell me you want me in Chinese.” At a loss for Chinese words—he knows a grand total of about 20—he finally blurts out, “Nay ho ma!”: “Like what?” he thinks, “I don’t know what to say. ‘How are you?’ is as good as anything.”

The book’s you-are-there tone is accompanied by a kind of pop-culture soundtrack—dozens of quotes from songs, movies and TV shows scattered throughout. They’re not marked as quotes in the usual way and they’re not credited until the end notes; they float in, much as they’d come to mind in real time.

As you might expect, Paper Bullets offers insights about specifics such as Asian-American identity and being a young man in America. Its true source of power, though, is the ring of truth in its everyday, universal experiences.

While much of the writing is darkly funny, you can turn a corner in this book and get hit right between the eyes with Fulbeck’s raw evocations of alienation and longing.

After a love affair founders, he writes, “All that’s left is the love. Still palpable between us, though we see each other only in passing. The occasional chance meetings of our eyes caress each other now. Nothing else.”