Lovely and sparse, Gangster is like an impressionist painting -- pretty strokes of prose melding to create a larger whole. A nameless narrator recalls her '70s childhood, when she and her father journeyed by boat from war-ravaged Vietnam to San Diego. The afflictions that shape her life -- the two long years before her mother joined them in the U.S., a brother's tragic death, her father's shadowy past -- are revealed in glimpses and softened by a child's perspective. Most likely swatches from the author's own past, the novel's short, graceful passages never fully engage. We're left admiring the picture from afar.