Review: Kip Fulbeck’s acclaimed fictional autobiography

Mandy Willingham, eurasionnation.com

July, 2002

In his first full-length published work, Paper Bullets: A Fictional Autobiography (University of Washington Press 2001), award-winning Chinese-Caucasian performer, artist, professor and author Kip Fulbeck explores the effects of stereotypical depictions and perceptions of Asians, particularly those perpetuated by the American media.

Through a series of hilarious, aggressive and poignant short stories, Fulbeck addresses such precarious topics as Asian fetishizing, Asian male masculinity, interracial dating, and bicultural families.

He also expounds on a subject he knows best: Hapas. Throughout Paper Bullets, Fulbeck considers issues regarding Hapa identity, and the evolving role of Hapas within Asian and Caucasian culture.

As a whole, Paper Bullets is a raw and risky read. Fulbeck reveals an engaging and delirious narrative, under the aptly sub-titled “fictional autobiography” format. Through this, readers are privy to the development of an unabashed protagonist created from Fulbeck’s own truths, exaggerations, and imagination. The result is a hybrid of fact and fiction,interweaving myth, anecdote, pop culture references, and social musings.

Fulbeck’s narrator is drawn in part from his own experiences growing up in 1980s Southern California suburbia, raised by a Chinese mother and Caucasian father. He portrays the dichotomy of the narrator’s bicultural childhood with contrasting, and humorous images.

In one chapter, the narrator describes weekend treks to Los Angeles Chinatown for dim sum and triads-seeking adventures with his Chinese cousins (triads are Chinese mafia organizations). This is later contrasted with amusing descriptions of his father’s affinity for slowly progressing steak dinners served with fine wine by buxom waitresses.

Fulbeck spares no expense in divulging the grittier details of his narrator’s past. His confessions are sources of contradiction: from the brutal elementary school taunts inflicted by the narrator on the new “F.O.B.” (Fresh Off the Boat) transfer student, to the crushing experience of his first love and subsequent loss at the hands of a nubile, 14-year old Brook Shields look-alike.

Continuing his tumultuous encounters with the opposite sex, the narrator is portrayed alternating between dating and bedding exclusively Caucasian, and then Asian women. In an ironic turn, he is eventually ensnared by one Caucasian woman with a penchant for dating and deceiving Hapa men.

At turns thoughtful, hilarious and incendiary, Paper Bullets entrusts its reader with the kind of intimacies only sometimes revealed on the pages of diaries, or whispered in the ears of those we love. Never mind that Fulbeck’s confessions vacillate between undetermined truths, embellishments, and complete fiction. In the end, Paper Bullets is storytelling that is rewarding and unrelenting.