‘On Discovery’ by Maxine Hong Kingston

A comic assault on male power and a tale of female revenge, putting one in mind of Fellini’s carnivalesque City of Women, in which Marcello Mastroianni is seduced into a city where women rule and use him as their slave. Kingston’s story plots a similarly vindictive act as a man is captured and taken to the Valley of Women. The protagonist is ritually humiliated, but notes of local Chinese colour grace the tale. Just over a page in length, it has the lightness and sexiness but also the underlying seriousness of the best metamorphosis narratives. This one just edged out Angela Carter’s vengeful, feminist twist on the Pygmalion myth, ‘The Loves of Lady Purple’. Also, in a way I’ve had my quota of lushness with Nabokov – but it was close.   

First published in China Men, Knopf, 1980

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