Longlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize
A Vogue Best Book of the Year
One of The Millions' Most Anticipated Books of 2022
A searching, sharply observed debut novel on the interconnection between work and life, loneliness and kinship, and the projects that occupy our time.
How do we take stock of a life—by what means, and by what measure? This is the question that preoccupies Alice, a Taiwanese immigrant in her late thirties. In the off-hours from her day job, Alice struggles to create a project about the enigmatic downtown performance artist Tehching Hsieh and his monumental, yearlong 1980s performance pieces. Meanwhile, she becomes the caretaker for her aging stepfather, a Vietnam vet whose dream of making traditional Chinese furniture dissolved in alcoholism and dementia.
As Alice roots deeper into Hsieh’s radical use of time—in one piece, the artist confined himself to a cell for a year; in the next, he punched a time clock every hour, on the hour, for a year—and his mysterious disappearance from the art world, her project starts metabolizing events from her own life. She wanders from subway rides to street protests, loses touch with a friend, and tenderly observes her father’s slow decline.
Moving between present-day and 1980s New York City, with detours to Silicon Valley and the Venice Biennale, this vivid debut announces Lisa Hsiao Chen as an audacious new talent. Activities of Daily Living is a lucid, intimate examination of the creative life and the passage of time.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
This is a novel of ideas, or as the main character thinks of them, “projects.” Alice is a thirtysomething Taiwanese American video editor who breaks the monotony of her freelance work with deep dives into research topics that interest her. While her beloved stepfather begins a slow physical and mental decline, Alice becomes fascinated by the life and work of Tehching Hsieh, a little-known punk-era New York performance artist whose mysterious pieces included punching a time clock every hour on the hour and being tied to a fellow artist with an 8-foot rope, all for a year at a time. (Hsieh is a real artist, and reading about these actual performances is just fascinating!) First-time novelist Lisa Hsiao Chen tells Alice’s story in a deliberately distanced, matter-of-fact style—the other important characters are referred to only as the Father and the Artist—but the results are powerfully emotional. Like Hsieh’s performance-art works, Activities of Daily Living is a thoughtful, philosophical examination of how much time we have to live and how we choose to spend it.