How to Pick Up a Maid in Statue Square Reviews

FreeFall, Spring/Summer 2017

Fast Eddy, Joe, Willis, Old Fat Businessman (OFB), Jerry, Blank, Chef, Load Toad, Zubis, Mr. and Mrs. Worley, and many more populate these 11 stories, expatriates in Hong Kong or Bali, alone because of divorce, separation, or work. Whatever reason, all feel at once banished from their former lives, yet inexorably bound there, and seeking to fit into a culture of drugs, booze, sex, voyeurism—never satisfying. What makes these people run? What makes them stay?

Tarvydas's stories are character-driven, written in a fresh voice, un-halting, coarse as is required, and jaded as the expats whom she has permitted to tell their stories, authentic. Yet, this author uses unexpectedly descriptive language to describe the settings for her stories, enhancing the tone, and underscoring parallels with longings of her characters:

Smoke twists and rolls within the wooden boxes on the ceiling, searching for an escape route. One frail arm of smoke reaches across a beam and joins hands with its neighbor before it disappears into the next crowded box, going nowhere together. (15)

Following the stories, Tarvydas lists drinks that her characters imbibed in the stories, and a Playlist of music. How original and refreshing!

Should you wish to experience Hong Kong à la Rea Tarvydas's observations while living there, pick up her book and prepare to be transported into exotic, intoxicating adventures.

— Annie Wesko, FreeFall

cbc daybreak alberta review, angie abdou, november 16, 2016

Angie Abdou Reviews New Stories from Rea Tarvydas: 

the calgary herald, october 15, 2016

"Rea Tarvydas explores the life and fast times of expats in Hong Kong with debut collection of short stories."

It all began with Fast Eddy.

Not the Paul Newman character in The Hustler, but one Calgary writer Rea Tarvydas created more than a decade ago for a short story about a hard-drinking, drugged-up expat investment banker immersed in the surreal nightlife of Hong Kong’s red-light district. Tarvydas found him hard to shake.

She even tried to kill him off at one point, but it didn’t take.

“That was the first character that I ever wrote where I could actually hear his voice in my head,” said Tarvydas, who will be part of a WordFest panel discussing short fiction on Saturday. “That was a new experience for me as a writer. I could very clearly hear him and understood who he was.”

He is one of the lively characters who populate How to Pick Up a Maid in Statue Square (Thistledown Press, 144 Pages, $18.95), Tarvydas’ debut collection of short stories that deal with the fast times of expats living in Hong Kong, a city where the author lived for a brief period nearly 20 years ago. Characters such as Fast Eddy, Load Toad and Decker are driven and wealthy and prone to misbehaviour. They work 12-hour days and play just as hard. But, like many expats, they are also lost and desperate for a sense of community, even as they pursue seemingly empty sexual encounters and cheat on their spouses. At the end of the book, Tarvydas includes a playlist of dour punk and post-punk songs that helped power her writing. It includes The Saints’ blistering 1978 Aussie-punk anthem (I’m) Stranded, PIL’s cheerfully obnoxious This Is Not A Love Song and Broken Social Scene’s throbbing Sons and Stars. Her drinks list, also included at the back of the book, suggests vodkatinis and Beamish stout, among others. A combination of these things would likely put the reader in an appropriate headspace to soak up Tarvydas’ dark and funny take on Hong Kong, a frantically paced city of blinding lights, endless noise, black rainstorms and stifling heat.

Still, even in this relatively small world of Hong Kong expats, Tarvydas’ personal experiences there seem worlds apart from the one she creates for her characters.

In 2000, she travelled to Hong Kong with a newborn baby and four-year-old after her management-consultant husband was transferred.

A former nurse, she took up creative writing while living in what has been dubbed “the most thrilling city on the planet”. But with two small children, Tarvydas was too preoccupied with domestic life to fully fall into the frenzied chaos of Hong Kong after dark. Her life in Hong Kong was “a quiet one” and within two years she was back in Calgary.

“It isn’t autobiographical,” she says. “But I’m pretty much involved somehow, in some capacity, in all my characters.”
The collection includes the title story, which has Fast Eddy advising readers on the best practices when it comes to picking up Filipina maids on their one day off. The followup, Fast Eddy, revisits our titular hero after a stint in rehab as he deals with the nightlife and arrival of his dealer.

The Suitable Dress has an engaged business woman named Sarah venturing out into the wilds of Hong Kong during a nasty black rainstorm, where she falls for the charms of Fast Eddy. In 21:23, British businessman Load Toad contemplates sex, the death of his father and his children’s increased school fees while trapped at Hong Kong’s Skyline Business Hotel.
While Tarvydas may not have had these specific experiences, she said Hong Kong’s expats tends to establish a sense of community that links everyone together, even if it’s only fleetingly.

“I think that expats, no matter where they come from, start to share things in common even though their home countries are different,” Tarvydas says “They are the sort of people who typically are fairly curious about life. But they end up gliding in this little zone. It isn’t where they are living and it isn’t where they are from. It’s just little neutral zone. It can be a lot of fun in there because expats at this level have a lot of money and can have a lot of fun acting out any way they want because nobody is really around to call them on their bulls—t. There’s no family, there’s no friends. It’s just other expats who are a little bit lost in that zone too.”

— Eric Volmers, The Calgary Herald