Chia-Chia Lin, a graduate of Harvard College, has an MFA in Fiction from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, where she received the Henfield Prize, an annual award of $10,000 to a graduate fiction writing student. Her short stories have appeared in The Paris Review, Glimmer Train, The Missouri Review, and elsewhere.
Her novel, The Unpassing
the day before Gavin comes home from school feeling sick. At home he roughhouses with Ruby and Natty . . . and falls asleep. He wakes up a week later. He has recovered from meningitis; Ruby has not.
Ruth Lefave in a Rumpus blog. "How do bereaved parents nurture their surviving children? Where is home when no one understands you? Even as Lin’s book explores these devastating questions, her magnificent prose builds an unflinching and ultimately endearing portrait of each character."
Lin does it by showing the characters interacting with each other and with outsiders and with the landscape. It is clear from the first page Gavin is writing as an adult: "During an uneventful part of my childhood, my mother walked into the room with a plate of loose, washed grapes. She collapsed." Gavin and his sister Pei-Pei who watch the grapes roll across the floor do nothing. When a minute later their mother sits up, she says angrily, "I was testing you. Why were you just sitting there? Why didn't you call for the ambulance? What kind of children have I raised? Tell me, do you want to be orphans?" It sets a tone for the entire book.
Gavin is trying to make sense of the world. Adults do things he does not understand although readers do. He makes the mistakes a ten-year-old would make. He loves his mother and father, Pei-Pei, Ruby, and Natty, even when he can be oblivious and when, to me at least, they are not lovable. The Unpassing's story at heart is simple: Ruby dies, the family struggles to stay afloat economically, the parents separate, Gavin, Pei-Pei, Natty, and their mother leave Alaska. Lin, however, somehow manages to make this story engaging, dramatic, and compelling.
She does this, of course, is through incident. detail, and language: "Ruby never stayed in her own bed; there was movement in these deep nigh hours. She drifted between our bed like a vagrant, favoring my parents' and Natty's. But once in a while she crawled under the covers with me. In the dark, she rooted in the folds of fabric; her fingers whittled upward. We held hands under my pillow, and within seconds we were out."
Here is Gavin holding Natty, "His fingers would not curl around mine, but he allowed me to hold his fist. For a long time I clutched it, the end of a livelier, the last tangible evidence I was not alone. I wiped my palms one at a time, transferring his fits between my hands. I felt like I was cradling a peeled egg. In the dark the stairs seemed steep, a tremendous way to fall."
When the Rumpus interviewer asked Lin what she's working on now, she said, "I can tell you what it’s not: narrated by a child, set in or near wilderness, a story about immigrants. I hope it will be funny. I’m also thinking about plot, for once. Basically, I want it to be as different from this book as possible." I look forward to it.