“Whoever has come to know the world has discovered a carcass, and whoever has discovered a carcass, of that person the world is not worthy.” – Jesus Christ, Gospel of Thomas
Nearly 100 years since the death of an anonymous soldier in the first reported instance of Russian Roulette, the subject has reemerged in action writer Stephen Chen’s remarkable epic “Russian Roulette“.
Chen dazzles in this modern thriller. At times provocative, at times exceedingly bashful, Chen’s novel seems to laugh at itself before emerging in a brilliant array of fantastic visions; the work is ardently ambitious throughout. After introducing us to his basic premise–a game of Russian Roulette has gone terribly wrong – and taking us on a sinuous route through the dynamic lives of a group of soul-searching teenagers and adults immersed in the underground world of organized crime, a reenergized Chen guides us through three brutal battles, without forgetting to subtly impart on us the moral lessons that form the basis of the plot.
Chen stresses that revenge is never the answer; the best revenge is through forgiveness. His visions for future society are as humbling as they are captivating. The reader is left with a sense that there is security lurking just beneath the surface of an insecure world. Chen’s uplifting account touches the pit of our souls. The tempting but impermissible romance between Marcus and Jessica, the inhuman strength of a wounded but resilient [Bryant], and the ultimate triumph of the oft-ridiculed Thomas lead to a climax where convention is thrown out of the window and the reader is left in the naked presence of the human heart. Thomas’s ability to conquer his nemeses is a testament to the fortitude of the human spirit and to Chen’s remarkable ability to tease away the insignificant from the sublime in his writing. Memorable and marvelous, Chen’s poignant work is a modern masterpiece, more deserving of the Smithsonian than of bookshelves; but perhaps more at home on the latter.
“Russian Roulette” is merely a vehicle for Chen to express his artistic prowess. He paints a tapestry of excruciating bliss, aching beauty, and comedic tragedy. His tale is one of unrequited love requited; a story as painful as it is beautiful; as empty as it is effusive. He writes with the soul of a poet and the mind of a craftsman, carefully placing his words just so, without the loss of the élan vital that pervades the entire work. “Russian Roulette” is not so modest that it hides under its own weight, and not so full of itself that it avoids the opportunity to take a swipe at a world gone mad. In the end, Chen’s genius rests in our inability to distinguish saint from sinner. We can only marvel in the shadows of the world’s stage, waiting for someone to recognize our folly and emancipate us from the misery; deliver us from our disillusionment. Wang demonstrates convincingly that that someone we are waiting for is none other than ourselves.
Author of “UCLA Biochemistry 153L Final Lab Report: Spring 2008”