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First Fiction Friday: Personal Attention Roleplay
Fans of Sour Heart and Barrelling Forward will love this brilliant short story collection in Personal Attention Roleplay (Metonymy Press) by Helen Chau Bradley. These stories are propelled by queer loneliness, mixed-race confusion, late capitalist despondency, and the pitfalls of intimacy.
Casey Plett calls Personal Attention Roleplay “A perfect album of stories—funny, sad, sharp, and deeply intimate.” And we agree: throughout, the stylistically distinct pieces evoke urgent and uncomfortable reader responses; the prose is steeped in visceral, vivid imagery and with ideological questions that are largely left unresolved. Reviewers have spoken themes of longing for intimacy in this book—“Each story in the collection speaks of desire and the bone-deep human yearning for closeness that follows, even if that closeness remains out of reach,” wrote Alyssa Favreau in the Capilano Review—and to the pain of loneliness and harm in the infinite failures of those longed-for connections under white-supremacist heteropatriarchal capitalism: “in the book’s title story, the main character’s friendship break-up with their roommate results in an obsession with autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) videos on YouTube to cope, replacing the bond of their relationship with an extreme attempt to self-soothe” (Alanna Why, Minola Review). Overall, Corey Qureshi proposes that “estrangement and how it’s navigated is a main concern of the collection as a whole” (Rejection Letters).
And yet author H Felix Chau Bradley doesn’t think of themself as lonely, but instead as steeped in community in the city they’ve lived in for over a decade and the work and people they’ve surrounded themself with there. In fact, Helen comes at writing from within the industry—as a reviewer, one-time bookseller, and book club facilitator —and without, as a musician, organizer, and long-time Montrealer, both of which support their writing. The final story of the collection, which Angela Mazza calls “a remarkable revenge tale that tackles toxic masculinity in the music scene, while interrogating what it means to be complicit in harm” (Maisonneuve) is simultaneously about deep attachment, between band members who have been through shit together and connected so seamlessly that the narrative is told in the first person plural of their collective voice.
You just have to read it: the stories in this debut collection, largely from the point of view of Asian diasporic queer subjects, balance the longing for connection with the ruthlessness of social isolation under late-stage capitalism. This is a brilliant collection for this complex, chaotic era.
X+Y = Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang + Barrelling Forward by Eva Crocker = Personal Attention Roleplay by H Felix Chau Bradley
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H Felix Chau Bradley is a writer and musician living in Tiohtià:ke (Montreal). Their writing has appeared in carte blanche, Cosmonauts Avenue, Maisonneuve Magazine, the Montreal Review of Books, and elsewhere. They are the author of Automatic Object Lessons, a poetry chapbook. They are the Fiction Editor for This Magazine and the host of Strange Futures, a speculative fiction book club. Personal Attention Roleplay is their first book.