Shortlisted for the Centre for Fiction First Novel Prize
A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
In Chia-Chia Lin's piercing debut novel, The Unpassing, we meet a Taiwanese immigrant family of six struggling to make ends meet on the outskirts of Anchorage, Alaska. The father, hardworking but beaten down, is employed as a plumber and contractor, while the loving, strong-willed, unpredictably emotional mother holds the house together. When ten-year-old Gavin contracts meningitis at school, he falls into a deep, nearly fatal coma. He wakes a week later to learn that his younger sister, Ruby, was infected too. She did not survive.
Routine takes over for the grieving family, with the siblings caring for one another as they befriend the neighbouring children and explore the surrounding woods, while distance grows between the parents as each deals with the loss alone. When the father, increasingly guilt-ridden after Ruby's death, is sued over an improperly installed water well that gravely harms a little boy, the chaos that follows unearths what really happened to Ruby.
With flowing prose that evokes the terrifying beauty of the Alaskan wilderness, Chia-Chia Lin explores the fallout from the loss of a child and a family's anguish playing out in a place that doesn't yet feel like home. Emotionally raw and subtly suspenseful, The Unpassing is a deeply felt family saga that dismisses the myth of the American dream for a harsher, but ultimately profound, reality.
'Graceful and precise' TIME
'A breathtaking novel, full of characters as strong and as wild as the Alaskan landscape they inhabit . . . Chia-Chia Lin is a remarkable writer' Yaa Gyasi
In Lin's challenging debut, set in rural 1986 Alaska, a Taiwanese-American family struggles to cope with the loss of their youngest member. A week after the Challenger explodes, 10-year-old Gavin wakes up from a meningitis-induced coma, only to realize that his younger sister, Ruby, didn't survive the illness. In the months that follow, the family slowly disintegrates. When not fighting with her husband, Gavin's mother talks incessantly about taking their remaining three children and moving back to Taiwan. Gavin's father, a water well driller, becomes despondent and erratic, staring into space or sawing holes in the ceiling to squelch a flying squirrel infestation. When he's sued by a white family whose child became severely ill from an improperly installed water well, the ill-equipped and penniless parents run from the situation. They take the children and go on a "vacation" in the Alaskan boonies, forcing Gavin, his five-year-old brother, Natty, and their older sister, Pei-Pei, to sleep in the truck with the rest of their scavenged belongings. Upon their return to the repossessed house, the family squats in the eerie, empty shell as winter sets in that is, until yet another catastrophe shatters the little they have left. The unrelenting bleakness of the novel might be too much for some readers, but Lin's talent for vivid, laser-sharp prose especially when describing Alaska's stark beauty or the family's eccentric temperament is undeniable. Correction: this review incorrectly stated a character had died.