cover image Tomb Sweeping: Stories

Tomb Sweeping: Stories

Alexandra Chang. Ecco, $18.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-06-295184-7

Chang (Days of Distraction) explores the meaning of home in her powerful and delightfully strange debut collection. After the 30-something narrator of “Unknown by Unknown” loses her job to a more efficient software program, she takes a month-long house-sitting gig in a luxurious Northern California home. There, she lies out on the deck as “flat and still as a corpse in a bikini” and imagines herself “slowly cooking like an animal on a spit.... as though I were dissolving.... Occasionally, the sensation frightened me, but most of the time I was relieved.” The elegant and compressed “Li Fan” starts with the death of a woman named Mrs. Shum from a stroke, then tells of how she came to live in a rundown boardinghouse and collect bottles and cans. The residents of the neighborhood where she picks up the redeemables call her “the Asian recycling lady,” but they don’t know she used to have a home there with her husband, that they came from Wuhan, and that she once nurtured dreams of a career in government. In “A Visit,” a young woman reconnects with her peripatetic father after he travels from Northern California to see her in Upstate New York. It takes getting up close to recognize him; at first, all she sees are the “curves and juts of a skull... beneath weathered skin.” Chang’s distinctive style and wry tone bring her characters to startling life, all the while rendering the pain of their loneliness and desire for stability in stark relief. This is a triumph. Agent: Alexa Stark, Writers House. (Aug.)