RUNAWAY by Evelyn Lau. (Coach House Press: $9.95, 276 pp.) Born in Vancouver in 1971, Evelyn Lau wanted to be a writer from the time she was very small. Her parents, however--partly because of traditional Chinese values and partly because of a Draconian sensibility--forbade their daughter any creative writing, insisting instead that her life be completely devoted to academics. Unable to stand the repressive environment, Lau left home at 14, never to return. Her latest book, "Runaway," is the journal she kept over the next two years while living on the streets as a drug addict and prostitute.
"Runaway" makes an interesting contrast with Lau's recently published collection of short stories, "Fresh Girls." Much of Lau's fiction is inspired by her life, so, on a certain level, "Runaway" gave birth to the later work. Yet, while it is clear, even from Lau's teen-aged journals, that she is an exceptionally intelligent, introspective person as well as a talented writer, "Runaway" still suffers from all the same irritating qualities that make people who live with teen-agers groan and roll their eyes when one asks how they are doing.
Additionally, the single piece of information that could pertain to many lives is absent from "Runaway." At the end of the book, Lau is still in deep trouble, yet judging from a short epilogue and later stories, it is safe to say that Lau, with no self-esteem, terrible depression and a drug problem, somehow managed to pull herself together. What changed? Why? How long did it take? Can Lau's ability to finally move toward health give even a small degree of illumination to the millions of desperate, homeless teen-agers across the continent, and the people around them? Unless she writes about it, we will never know.