Yellowface - by R.F. Kuang


Yellowface - by R.F. Kuang

Read: 2024-03-17

Recommend: 10/10

The depiction of a writer’s anxiety about publishing another successful work strikes a chord with me. In the story, the protagonist, June, cleverly creates a website to capture the IP address of an online stalker. It’s interesting to find out that R.F. Kuang, the author of the book, grew up in Dallas, Texas (I got my PHD there).


Here are some text that I highlighted in the book:

  1. Every writer I know feels this way about someone else. Writing is such a solitary activity. You have no assurance that what you’re creating has any value, and any indication that you’re behind in the rat race sends you spiraling into the pits of despair. Keep your eyes on your own paper, they say. But that’s hard to do when everyone else’s papers are flapping constantly in your face.

  2. We spend most of it in silence, and as we pull up to my building, he offers some condolences that I hear but don’t process.

  3. But then I just kept going. I couldn’t stop. They say that editing a bad draft is far easier than composing on a blank page, and that’s true—I feel so confident in my writing just then. I keep finding turns of phrases that suit the text far better than Athena’s throwaway descriptions. I spot where the pacing sags, and I mercilessly cut out the meandering filler. I draw out the plot’s through line like a clear, powerful note. I tidy up; I trim and decorate; I make the text sing.

  4. In any case, Twitter discourse never does anything—it’s just an opportunity for firebrands to wave their flags, declare their sides, and try to brandish some IQ points before everyone gets bored and moves on.

  5. “What!” Susan’s mouth makes such a perfectly round O of shock, I would laugh if this whole thing weren’t so awkward.

  6. My bladder bulges. I squirm in my seat, trying to find a better equilibrium.

  7. I can’t move away from my laptop. Even when I finally get up to pee, my eyes remain glued to my phone. The healthy thing to do would be to shut down all my devices, but I can’t step back. I have to watch the whole disaster unfold in real time, have to see exactly who has retweeted it and who is responding.

  8. My panic attack ebbs, probably because I’ve obsessed over the worst-case scenarios so many times now that they can’t scare me anymore.

  9. I should have stopped looking once I’d glimpsed what I thought was the bottom of the pit of internet stupidity. But reading discourse about myself is like prodding at a sore tooth. I’m compelled to keep digging, just to see how far the rot goes.

  10. I know some authors who have been able to jump from scandal to scandal with their reputations perfectly intact. Mostly white. Mostly male. Isaac Asimov was a serial sexual harasser; so was Harlan Ellison. David Foster Wallace abused, harassed, and stalked Mary Karr. They are still hailed as geniuses.

  11. But your time in the spotlight never lasts. I’ve seen people who were massive bestsellers not even six years ago, sitting alone and forlorn at neglected signing tables while lines stretched around the corner for their younger, hotter peers. It’s hard to reach such a pinnacle of literary prominence that you remain a household name for years, decades past your latest release. Only a handful of Nobel Prize winners can get away with that. The rest of us have to keep racing along the hamster wheel of relevance.

  12. Brett hangs up. I groan and turn back to my laptop, where I’ve been staring at the same blank, accusing Word document for weeks.

  13. We all moved on. I forgot about Andrew, or at least buried him so deep in the back of my mind that he wouldn’t resurface until therapy sessions many years later.

  14. Not every girl has a rape story. But almost every girl has an “I’m not sure, I didn’t like it, but I can’t quite call it rape” story.

  15. If a Chinese food joint expends no effort on its aesthetic, that’s a sign the food is amazing. Or that the owners don’t give a shit.

  16. ‘Interesting’ is a word people use when they can’t think of anything better to say.

  17. “I can’t rely on my old work,” I say, though I know I can’t make her understand. “I need to write the next best thing. And then another. Otherwise the sales will whittle down, and people will stop reading my work, and everyone will forget about me.” Saying this out loud makes me want to cry. I hadn’t realized how much this terrified me: being unknown, being forgotten. I sniffle. “And then when I die, I won’t have left any mark on the world. It’ll be like I was never here at all.”

  18. “It’s going to be fine,” he says. “These things always feel like the end of the world when they’re happening. But they’re not. Social media is such a tiny, insular space. Once you close your screen, no one gives a fuck. And you shouldn’t, either, all right?”

  19. So I simply must continue to live with this ghost, to grow accustomed to her face lingering on the backs of my eyelids. We must find some other equilibrium of coexistence that does not involve my giving her the only thing she wants.

  20. It all boils down to self-interest. Manipulating the story; gaining the upper hand. Doing whatever it takes. If publishing is rigged, you might as well make sure it’s rigged in your favor. I get it. I’ve done it, too; it’s just playing the game. It’s how you survive in this industry.

  21. I crash through one week, and then another, with painkillers and sleep aids. Consciousness is a burden. I wake up only to eat. I don’t taste the food in my mouth. I subsist entirely on peanut butter sandwiches, and after a few days, I stop bothering with the peanut butter. My hair grows ratty and greasy, but the thought of washing it exhausts me. I push myself through the motions of bare survival, but there is no telos, nothing to look forward to, other than marching down the dreadful progression of linear time. This is, I believe, what Agamben would call “bare life.”