The characters in Chu’s debut story collection grapple with quotidian struggles, employment mishaps, and unruly family dynamics.
Chu's stories are set in spaces one might write off as nondescript: generic office parks, stores in their final days of existence, fast-food restaurants, the hallways of cruise ships. At his best, Chu finds ways to turn the everyday into the revelatory. He’s especially good at tapping into the frustrations of working in corporate America circa now. In “Fred from Finance,” the title character is laid off from his job on his birthday, discovers some unpleasant truths about his former co-workers, and makes a few unlikely connections with people along the way. The narrator of “Rhubarb Pie” is forced to confront his own attitudes about his job of many years after one of his colleagues announces her intention to quit via a well-placed pie to the face of her boss. These are subtle, understated stories, by and large; in “Recent Conversations,” Chu explores the ambiguities of the dialogues that can emerge in the world of online dating, while in the title story, the proprietor of a toy store that’s soon to close attempts to determine if the object of his affection is also responsible for a recent theft. The collection juxtaposes the harmful impact that financial conditions and a shifting economic landscape can have on people, but Chu also leaves in space for his characters’ more personal foibles and flaws. He covers a host of relationships—familial, romantic, occupational—and, in doing so, showcases the complexities of the characters on display.
Chu’s stories are solidly realistic in their scope, exploring everyday issues with charm and empathy—and occasional moments of unexpected humor.