Rock Paper Tiger

I found out about Rock Paper Tiger on Nathan Bransford’s blog about six months ago. This novel by Lisa Brackmann piqued my interest because it was her debut. The story is about an Iraq war veteran, Ellie, living in Beijing. She’s separated from her husband, who cheated on her; suffers from post traumatic stress syndrome; has no direction in her life; hangs out in an artist’s colony; etc. I’m listing all of this because this is how the book reads. There’s not much plot – just a bunch of stuff that happens and none of it seems connected.

As a consistent reader of Bransford’s blog, I expected more of this book. Bransford was a literary agent (recently left the profession) and Rock Paper Tiger was a book he promoted vigorously on his blog. This is a very average book, and I’m not sure what Bransford saw in getting it published. Maybe it was the anti-war rhetoric from the main character, or the many liberal leanings that Brackmann preaches throughout. Maybe I should change my political ideology to get published?

What I do like about this book is how it covers China. I might be travelling there in 2011 so I was eager to dive into this setting and was not disappointed. From what I have learned about Brackmann, she lived there and absorbed much of the culture. This plays out really well in the book. The locales constantly change and gives the reader a nice visual of what China is like from a foreigner’s perspective.

From the reading as a writer standpoint, I like the pace of the novel. It’s constantly moving forward and doesn’t dwell on too much. There aren’t any high concepts that slow down the story. The showing versus telling ratio is admirable. I like the first person style. It serves the novel well especially as the main character bounces to different parts of China. Character development is weak. Ellie, main character, is a pill popping nomad with no direction in her life. I don’t like her. She spends much of the book angry and bitter about her pending divorce – I can understand that but at the same time the character is one-dimensional. The Ellie character reminds me a of a grumpy old man. No matter who she comes across she’s feisty and irritable (like she’s complaining about those damn kids to get off her lawn!) If Brackmann tried to generate sympathy for Ellie, she missed the mark. Ellie also has these flashbacks about the war in Iraq which really has nothing to do with the story. It’s interesting she’s a vet but what it adds to the story – maybe I missed it. The other characters are shallow and don’t add anything to the story. Above all, there’s no plot. Ellie bums around China because she’s friends with some controversial artist, who has a Chinese dissident buddy. She’s wanted by some US security firm for what I’m not exactly sure. I know she needs to get information but nobody provides it. Factor in the online role-playing game, and you’ll be left wondering what’s the point of it all! The ending is disappointing. Nothing is tied up and issues are still open. I’m not left wanting more, I’m left frustrated.

Read this book as a travel companion for China, but if you’re looking for a story that grips you’ll have to look elsewhere.

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