The Introduction establishes the key terms, methodologies, and central archives of the project. Inscrutable Belongings involves extended readings of queer Asian North American fictions, focusing on first-person storytellers who manage to endure to their respective narrative conclusions. Their harrowing journeys, called "survival plots," are enabled by a coterie of individuals who are biologically unrelated to the storyteller and who together denote an "inscrutable belonging."
The first chapter of Inscrutable Belongings explores queer racial formalisms. This chapter articulates three formal and thematic patterns that are variations of tactical diversions. This phrasing is employed because these patterns move away from the author's autobiographically imbued fictional double—a queer Asian North American—to explore other discursive viewpoints, characters, and social contexts.
This chapter more fully engages the key terms of the project, defining the survival plot, outlining the pivotal importance of inscrutable belongings, and establishing how these alternative social formations enable the queer Asian North American storyteller to endure. The latter half of the chapter engages in a sustained analysis of Russell Leong's short story "Camouflage," which comes from Phoenix Eyes & Other Stories.
The third chapter primarily involves a storyteller named Fee who recounts a harrowing tale in which he—along with numerous other young boys—is molested by a choir director. While many of his fellow choirboys commit suicide, the narrator manages to reach adulthood. However, existing under the weight of these traumas, Fee finds himself struggling to work through his troubled past. To assuage these feelings, Fee constructs connections to metaphorical progenitors, allowing him to reframe the sexual abuse he endured as a preteen and to reconstitute notions of family and kinship through the logic of a community of individuals who have survived an outbreak. The chapter in addition investigates the ways in which the novel critically links earlier pandemics to the AIDS/HIV crises in the 1980s. Acknowledging these infectious genealogies enables Fee to disengage from his own participation in abusive intergenerational relationships.
Chapter 4 considers the metaphorical ancestries and alternative social formations developed by a storyteller named Bong. He spends much of his time mooning over Hollywood movie stars, especially Montgomery Clift. In this sense, this chapter explores the novel's source of spectral haunting by moving forward into the Golden Age of Hollywood cinema. The chapter further considers how the protoqueer Asian North American boy employs his imagination to deal with childhood traumas. The narrator recounts the centrality of Clift as part of an inscrutable belonging that helps restore order in a chaotic and dangerous period in which he is abused by a family member and left abandoned. Eventually he is adopted, allowing him a chance to foster lasting attachments, but these changes also come with others: Bong's relationship to Clift alters, and the nature of such social affinities must evolve for him to emerge as the survival plot's heroic center.
The specters of the bubonic plague victim and Montgomery Clift remain palpable in Chapter 5, in which the narrator, Michelle, obsessively returns to a period in her youth during which an African American couple, Mr. and Mrs. Garrett, moves to Deerhorn, her hometown, which is a bucolic but segregated midwestern location during the 1970s. A period of heightened racial tensions ensues during which Mrs. Garrett is targeted and then murdered by a townsperson. This moment is traumatic because the storyteller-as-young-girl had imagined the possibility of an inscrutable belonging based on the bonds she had forged with Mr. and Mrs. Garrett. The novel reveals the need to reconceptualize her life through "interracial surrogacies," a phrase that calls attention to the desire for this protagonist to construct a makeshift family, however ephemeral and unlikely, in a racially homogenous agrarian setting.
The final chapter takes us to Singapore, where the storyteller, Natalie, grapples with the suicide of a close friend's son. Whereas earlier chapters focus on marginalized subjects who act as metaphorical progenitors, Chapter 6 shows how Natalie reconfigures her relationships through healing and alternative therapies. These therapeutic approaches are necessary to heal her past traumas, which come to light after she acknowledges the unexpected parallel she shares with the suicide victim. In this case, the ghost that haunts this chapter belongs not to someone who died long ago but to a figure who was born after her and comes from a later generation. The storyteller comes to embrace this phantom through their collective status as "degenerate descendants" of the postcolonial nation. The novel's Singaporean setting elucidates the transnational stakes in my critique, as these two characters function to critique national ideologies that promote technological progress and ethnoracial factionalism.
The coda sums up the project, establishing the pressing need to recognize queer Asian North American lives and associated social formations.