The spirit of aloha washes out with the tide and alienation rushes in, in a new collection of short fiction called "Language of the Geckos...

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“Language of the Geckos and Other Stories”
by Gary Pak
University of Washington Press, 178 pp., $18.95

The spirit of aloha washes out with the tide and alienation rushes in, in a new collection of short fiction called “Language of the Geckos and Other Stories.”

These nine tales feature Native Hawaiians or Asian Americans who have put down roots in the Hawaiian Islands. They were crafted by Gary Pak, a creative-writing professor at the University of Hawaii.

The opening story, “A House of Mirrors,” features a Japanese-American spinster schoolmarm who assuages her loveless existence by assuming the identities of Hollywood screen goddesses and dancing alone in front of mirrors every night.

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While the story certainly sets the tone for the tales of frustration and bleakness that follow, it’s a weak choice as collection opener. The character is painfully stereotypical in all ways except her ethnicity.

Other stories feature more original players. A reluctant bargirl in “Hae Soon’s Song” reflects on the political upheaval, poetry and love she left behind in Korea. In “The Guest,” a man’s grade-school chum resurfaces after an absence of decades and asserts that it is his indigenous right to become a squatter in the man’s front yard.

Pak’s invocation of the fecund landscape sometimes contrasts with his thematic fascination with abused or thwarted fertility. In “Rebirth,” a childless couple pursues mystical intervention in a desperate attempt to conceive. In “A Memory for Martin,” pregnancy by incest is just another twist in a family’s downward spiral.

While most of these tales convey varying degrees of disillusionment, the title story offers a reprieve. In “Language of the Geckos,” a man reconciles spiritually with his dead brother by talking with a particular gecko over the course of a days-long deluge of rain.

This story collection was published by University of Washington Press as part of the Scott and Laurie Oki Series in Asian American Studies.