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July 26-August 2, 2006

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Dao Strom

The Tao of Dao: Dao Strom grew up in Placerville, otherwise known as 'hangtown.'

The Perfect Strom

Writer, musician and Renaissance-woman Dao Strom brings her Polaroid flashbacks to Bookshop Santa Cruz

By Todd Inoue

Damn overachievers. They make the rest of us look like the Chee-to-eating, Project Runway-watching, responsibility-shirking lumps of saturated fat we really are. And just when ultimate surrender is found in that old T-shirt and the tamped spot on the couch, an overachiever like singer/songwriter and published author Dao Strom comes along to make us feel inspired to create and observe. The nerve!

Strom has stacked an enviable set of credits in a short time. A graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop, she received an NEA Literature Fellowship, a James Michener fellowship and the Chicago Tribune/ Nelson Algren Award. Her first novel, Grass Roof, Tin Roof, was published in 2003. The Gentle Order of Girls and Boys (Counterpoint Press; 342 pages; $24 cloth) was released last week and is her second book of fiction.

In Gentle Order, Strom explores four different Polaroid shots of four Vietnamese-American protagonists (a girl, a young woman, a wife and a mother) through four different stories using four different narrators. Strom's writing moves with catlike grace and attendant reflexes, conveying the inner workings of a woman's mind; a finer excavation of what cultural anthropologists like to call "female intuition" cannot be found. The Polaroid flash reveals every fleshy detail, wanted or not, and inside these details lie the minirevelations.

On the music side, Strom strums guitars and sings with an appealing lilt familiar to fans of Neko Case, Gillian Welch or Emmylou Harris. Her album Send Me Home inspired this sound bite from No Depression: "Redolent of stringband music filtered through the mind's eye, untainted by the retroactive sentimentality of memory ... replete with displaced travelers and seekers ... wandering by moving bodies of water that are by turns succoring and sinister." And just to send the point home, Strom covers the spiritual "I Am a Poor Wayfaring Stranger."

Dao Strom knows something about straddling the line between worlds and identities. Strom was born in Saigon and grew up in Placerville, Calif., before ultimately settling in Austin, Texas. At Bookshop Santa Cruz, she will read from her works and play some tunes and maybe reveal the identities of two Santa Cruz characters from Gentle Order: "Steve and Ian from Santa Cruz, semi-shaved-headed skater types whose hands continually slipped under their own shirts to brush against their stomachs, as if they took their own bodies as casual comfort." It's a good night to get off the couch and be in the presence of someone who powerfully expresses herself through written and sung forms.

Dao Strom, Thursday, July 27, at 7:30pm at Bookshop Santa Cruz, 1520 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz; 831.423.0900.

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