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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Must Hello Kitty really die?

Hello Kitty Must Die, by Angela S. Choi. Tyrus Books, 2010, 250 pages, $14.95 (paper)

"I love Cantonese," proclaims Fiona Yu. "I can express myself at a whole new level of crudeness and vulgarity that I can't with English."

Managing nonetheless with English profanity that would do credit to Henry Miller, Fiona — a Yale law school graduate who appears to be the evil twin of her creator, Angela Choi — begins this foulmouthed but wickedly funny first-person polemic with an attempt to take her own virginity using "a silicone dildo coated in two-percent Lidocaine gel," a common anesthetic. "It's part of being Chinese-American, having to deal with insanity," Fiona explains.

An abundance of titles can be found, by novelists like Amy Tan and Lisa See, underscoring the predicaments of women in Chinese, and Chinese-American, familial and social hierarchies. But Ms. Choi's unbridled screed appears to have been influenced by Jewish-Americans like comedian Lenny Bruce, author Phillip Roth ("Portnoy's Complaint") and Sarah Silverman, a TV comedian with a well-deserved reputation for pushing the envelope on vulgarity.

Fiona holds a degree from an elite university. But she's 28 and single and her immigrant parents, who operate a San Francisco laundromat, are pressuring her to marry a nice Chinese boy. ("With a chicken thermometer for a penis and an ego the size of Texas," she sneers.)

Finding herself wedged between two cultures and comfortable with neither, Fiona directs her fury at Sanrio's famous Kitty character, the cultural icon symbolizing prim cuteness favored by generations of Asian Lolitas. "I hate Hello Kitty," she exclaims. "I hate her for not having a mouth or fangs like a proper kitty. She can't eat, bite off a nipple or finger, give head, tell anyone to go . . . [expletives deleted] . . . Just clawless, fangless, voiceless, with that placid, blank expression topped by a pink ribbon."

Fiona coincidentally runs into Sean, her old parochial school classmate who had served a term in juvenile detention for setting a female classmate's hair on fire and permanently disfiguring her. Now armed with a new surname and a medical degree, Dr. Sean Killroy operates a thriving clinic specializing in restoring women's hymens.

Their platonic friendship is rekindled, but soon afterward strange things start to happen. Over Fiona's protests, her father sets up a date with Thomas Lam, a nerdy 35-year-old engineer. While at a karaoke establishment Thomas goes out the back door for a cigarette, and never returns. Fiona picks up the tab for their drinks and goes home, learning only afterward that Thomas had been robbed and murdered while smoking outside.

As the bodies start piling up, Fiona realizes her guardian angel is almost certainly a well-meaning serial killer. Her coldblooded solution shows that the harmless image aside, there's at least one Asian-American Kitty-chan who can bite.

Sprinkled with lively dialogue, "Hello Kitty Must Die" keeps the reader in stitches through 250 pages, its profanity-strewn polemics adding zest to an outrageously zany and disturbing take on the dysfunctional Asian-American Yuppie dating scene.

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