In Search of ‘Cambo’
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Published in: March-April 2022 issue.

by Anthony Veasna So
Ecco. 272 pages, $27.99


AUTHOR Anthony Veasna So died of a drug overdose on December 8, 2020. His first book, the short story collection Afterparties, was published on August 3, 2021, and was named one of the top 100 Notable Books of 2021 by The New York Times—almost a year after his death. So died before he could see the rave reviews for his collection, before it was selected for Roxane Gay’s book club, and even before the edits were finalized. In many ways, the book has come unmoored from the author, the machinery of its publication, promotion, and reception stewarded not by So himself but by those he left behind: his partner, publisher, agent, editor, and family members.

            In a moving profile of So written by E. Alex Jung for the arts and culture magazine Vulture, this machinery is described as being set in motion by So to build a career, but in his absence it has continued to operate and essentially to rewrite his story. Jung notes that “[So’s] death has ascribed a different myth to him”—not the rising star who walked into n + 1 magazine offices and charmed the editor into publishing one of his stories, but the dead rising star being lionized by an industry that barely got to know him. So’s legacy and work will be forever out of his control. (His second book, tentatively titled “Songs on Endless Repeat,” will include chapters from the novel he never finished, Straight Thru Cambotown, along with a selection of his essays.)

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Ruth Joffre, author of the short story collection Night Beast, teaches at Hugo House in Seattle.