THINGS TO MAKE AND BREAK  by May-Lan Tan

THINGS TO MAKE AND BREAK

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Everyone in Tan’s world is broken and searching for connection, though in the 11 haunting stories collected here, the results are rarely what they bargained for.

With the eerie precision of oversaturated snapshots, each of Tan’s stories captures a different moment of desperation—some otherworldly, others deceptively mundane. In “Legendary,” which opens the collection, a woman studies her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriends, searching for herself in their strange, unspoken sisterhood. In “Date Night,” a little girl in Hong Kong spends the night with her Indonesian nanny—new to the country, thousands of miles from her own children—while her mother is out with a date. In “New Jersey,” a teenage girl feels betrayed when her best friend loses her virginity to a boy. Other stories are stranger and more violent: “Laurens” follows a boy-Lauren and a girl-Lauren living brutally parallel lives: “They know how to skin things. Their fathers are hunters. The summer their mothers suicided, the Laurens went to SeaWorld San Diego, where they occupied the same quadrant of the bleachers during the Shamu show.” Both their stories end with blood. In the viciously sad “DD-MM-YY,” twin brothers have been competing for the same girl for years, though her own memories of this are shaky: She’s brain-injured from a car accident. Formatted like a movie script and taking up nearly 50 pages, “Candy Glass” is perhaps the most quietly affecting story in the collection, and the loneliest, about a Hollywood actress who falls for her stunt double. “Maybe funhouse mirrors would be scarier if, instead of making you look bad, they made you look better,” the actress observes, watching her doppelgänger. There is a gentle hesitancy to their relationship; in the end, the stunt double—a trans woman—will leave her, choosing to start fresh. “I’ll stick a flag in my lawn and go to church every Sunday, and marry a man. I’ll be part of the superstructure,” she says. “I don’t know how useful love is, in the long run.”

Visceral and demanding; an unsettling collection that knocks you off balance.

Pub Date: Oct. 2nd, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-56689-527-9
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Coffee House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2018




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