The Double Life of Benson Yu

Kevin Chong

Atria Book 2023

ISBN: 978-1-6680-0549-1


Author Kevin Chong’s metafiction, “The Double Life of Benson Yu, is  most definitely an impressive and challenging read. His main character is Benny, who always remains 12 years old. And the dual tracks in the novel offer an adventurous journey.

Benny’s grandmother, his caretaker, has just died and he fears a social worker will send him to live with father. So he begs Constantine, a neighbor in a Chinatown housing project, asking if he can hide out with him until his aunt returns from her music tour. Constantine, who is white and just released from a mental hospital, believes he is a reincarnated medieval Samurai.

… a well-crafted novel which could be a fictional comic series about an abuser, and a protector.

During Benny’s stay, Constantine teaches him martial arts, and the two spend nights sparring, and over time, “unspeakable things transpired.” As the story unravels, the reader learns Benny’s survived his ordeal with Constantine by drawing.

Benny creates a cartoon character, Iggy Samurai, about a fourteen-year-old iguana taken from his rainforest home and now living in Central Park. While under attack by raccoons, he is saved by Coyote Sensei, a samurai master reincarnated.

In one chapter, “elsewhere to present,” Benny is transported twenty years into the future, but he is still 12 years old.  Benny moves in with his father, who happens to have the same name and who is a world-acclaimed cartoonist. Coincidently, his father is also the creator of Iggy Samurai, which has been turned into a movie.

Benny’s father, a college professor, is tormented by the arrival of the boy. The father writes, “I created the boy, drew him from my memories, but the rules—were there rules?—that enabled his physical presence were determined outside of me. Was he mine, or was I his?”

In this complex form of writing, the author guides the reader through a suspenseful narrative: Constantine appears in the future. But is he a demon or a savior? In one scene, Constantine confronts both the father and the boy, making demands, and awakening the past.

Chong’s remarkable characters — Benny’s aunt, his friends, and his grandmother, all reflect his skill as a writer. The result is a well-crafted novel which could be a fictional comic series about an abuser, and a protector. For those willing to take a dive into the unknown and unusual, this work would be worth reading, and rewarding.