booknotes: May-Lan Tan, Things To Make and Break

May-Lan Tan, Things to Make and Break: Stories. Emily Books, 2014

I’m not sure what to do with this collection, which is a 100% good thing. Most of these stories depict disaffected teens and 20-somethings as they try to navigate their own limits in intersection with adulting: sex and drugs are foregrounded, but not fetishized, as the easiest ways to test these limits before the topographical constrictions of home-ownership set in. The prose is at once sharp and blurry, or sharp in its unceasing blurriness, as if the collection’s protagonists are mired in a psychic fog that demands that their perceptual borders be themselves occluded. The remarkable “Julia K.” has a simplicity of storytelling that belies the ritual complexity of the protagonist’s actions and the murky understanding of the tale’s recipient. What is growing on me: the raw, untidy character of the prose that is both declarative (short sentences) and ambiguous, and the ways that sex, drugs, booze, can transcend their own cliches by seeing them as part of the landscape rather than as the excesses of and intruders to that landscape.