Winner of the Danuta Gleed Literary Award (Writers’ Union of Canada)
An Amazon Best Book of the Month (Literature & Fiction)
In this exquisite American debut, Carrianne Leung evokes the legacies of Cheever and Munro with a haunting depiction of 1970s suburbia.
In her “compact gem of a collection” (Globe & Mail), Carrianne Leung enlivens a singular group of characters sharing a shiny new subdivision in 1970s Toronto. Marilyn greets new neighbors with fresh-baked cookies before she starts stealing from them. Stay-at-home-wife Francesca believes passion is just one yard away, only in the arms of another man. And Darren doesn’t understand why his mother insists he keep his head down, even though he gets good grades like his white friends. When a series of inexplicable suicides begin to haunt their community, no one is more fascinated by the terrible phenomenon than young June. The daughter of Chinese immigrants, she sits hawk-eyed at the center, bearing witness to the truth behind pulled curtains: the affairs, the racism, the hidden abuses.
Leung bursts onto the American literary stage with prose remarkably attuned to the tenuous, and perhaps deceptive, idea of happiness among these picket-fenced lives.
Leung (The Wondrous Woo) presents 10 sweet, sad, sympathetic stories set in Scarborough, Ontario, for a group portrait of immigrants, misfits, adults, adolescents, and teenagers, all of whom discover suburban comfort does not ensure happiness. The first story, "Grass," takes place in 1979, as 11-year-olds June and Josie ponder two suicides: Mr. Finley, the local softball coach, and Mrs. Da Silva, a housewife with an abusive husband. The girls cannot ask their parents for explanations, because death is one of many subjects parents prefer not to discuss with children. "Flowers" shows Mrs. Da Silva's last day, as she listens to flowers taunt her in her native Portuguese. In "Treasure," a woman named Marilyn who is admired by her neighbors turns out to be a thief. In "Sweets," June's buddy Naveen gets beaten up when he wears his sister's heart-shaped sunglasses to school. In "Things," comic book enthusiast Darren confronts a racist schoolteacher. "Wheels," "Kiss," and the title story explore June and Josie's changing perspectives upon their first experiences of womanhood. Linked by recurring characters such as Darren's Jamaican mother and June's grandmother from Hong Kong, together the stories track June's deepening understanding of the place she calls home. Crystalline prose, sharp storytelling, and pitch-perfect narration enhance Leung's accessible and affecting depiction of how cruelty undermines and kindness fortifies people's sense of community.