Review: A Perfect Crime by A Yi,204,203,200_.jpgA Perfect Crime by A Yi, translated by Anna Holmwood (Oneworld Publications, 210 pages)

This latest novel by the Chinese writer A Yi is a quick read, not just because it's a bit over 200 pages, but because it's a crime novel narrated by the killer himself, so...

I'm always intrigued by stories like this, because writers can delve into the psychologies of their main characters and dredge up some qualities that we might see within ourselves. I'm thinking here, for instance, about Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley and Hughes's In a Lonely Place. And this is precisely what Yi does with his unnamed, muderous teenaged narrator, bringing us into his mind as he plans and then executes his crime.

Within a couple of hundred pages, Yi takes us from the narrator's planning stage, through the murder, and ultimately to the trial and sentencing. Yet, the entire time I was reading, I felt like I was waiting for something that never came. I wanted something more horrifying, more bizarre. But perhaps that was Yi's point- this unnamed teenager could be any teenager who has become so bored and disenchanted that only murder could make him feel alive. During the trial, after everyone has tried and failed to figure out why the narrator murdered his classmate, he finally explains, "I did it for a reaction."

Much of the narration is unexceptional, but here and there, the narrator suddenly waxes poetic, as when he's comparing himself to his retired neighbor: "[w]e're both the lowest forms of trash, me and him, a fate from which we can't escape. Every day we long for the planes in the sky to throw out a rope and pull us up, to take us away somewhere more fulfilling. Even if where they take us affords us no freedom. But there are no such things as miracles, so instead we must endure this aching passage of time." And then there's his bizarre hallucinatory sequence in solitary confinement after he's captured, when he imagines himself as a fictional character in someone's novel. (After the trial ends, though, he declares "I was me, not some fictional character.").

Most of the other characters in the book are two-dimensional, but we could attribute that to the narrator's perspective, since he has become so deadened to the world around him that everyone, even his family, seems flat and uninteresting. And what about the title, "A Perfect Crime"? When I see that phrase, I automatically think of a crime that's been well covered-up. This teenager's murder of his classmate, though, is the opposite of that. So what does "perfect" mean here? A crime that is committed without hate or bitterness toward the victim? But why would that make it "perfect"?

This novel left me puzzled and I'm not really sure what to do with it. It would do well, I believe, under intense analytical scrutiny, but on the surface-level, it's befuddling.

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