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Activities of Daily Living

A Novel

by Lisa Hsiao Chen

Activities of Daily Living by Lisa Hsiao Chen X
Activities of Daily Living by Lisa Hsiao Chen
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  • Published Apr 2022
    288 pages
    Genre: Literary Fiction

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There are currently 26 member reviews
for Activities of Daily Living
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  • Lizmarie
    Art of Living
    Lisa Hsaio Chen introduces Alice, a Taiwanese immigrant who lives and works in NYC. When she is not working as a freelance video editor, Alice devotes her time to her “project,” a study of a Taiwanese performance artist, and to the care of her father who lives on the west coast. Her father is an alcoholic who is sinking inexorably into dementia.

    Like a permeable Venn diagram, the parts of Alice’s life overlap and shift. She grapples with the concept of project and the passing of time, with the definition of art and the meaning of life. Do projects simply fill our time? Do they give life meaning? Is living a project because it has a beginning and an end? Are relationships projects? How do we measure the worth of a life or the value of time? Is just living life an art?

    Chen’s prose is crisp and vivid. Although a knowledge of the art world would we helpful, it is not necessary to the enjoyment of her book. She poses questions that writers, artists and book clubs will enjoy discussing and will continue to ponder long after the discussion ends. I found myself playing with the words that we use to describe time. We save time, kill time, spend time and buy time. We bide time, waste time and share time. In the end, of course, like Alice and her father, all we have is the lifetime and the projects and relationships that give it meaning.
  • Julie Z. (Oak Park, IL)
    Activities of Daily Living by Lisa Hsiao Chen
    Alice is a Taiwanese immigrant living in NYC. In her free time, she is researching and writing about Tehsching Hsieh, an obscure performance artist, whom she refers to as "the Artist" ( While Hsieh's art often is centered on the notion of time, Alice's stepfather ("the Father" in the novel) is dying of Alzheimer's disease; wrestling with time in his own way. Alice flies back and forth to San Francisco, trying to find the best care for the Father, while trying to carry out her own daily living through her job, research, and relationships with friends. Hsiao Chan has a spare, distinctive writing style, which lends itself to the story at hand. Her treatment of the end of her stepfather's life is touching and rang true to me, as my mother also died of Alzheimer's. An excellent debut novel.
  • Lynn D. (Kingston, NY)
    Life and art in time
    What an interesting and unusual novel!
    There are two story threads. Alice is struggling with her Taiwanese Father's decline into dementia and his need for more and more help. The descriptions of her father's experiences in care facilities seem very true to me.
    In her spare time Alice is researching a famous (but not to me) performance artist in NYC. The stories are connected by the details of Alice's life and her thinking about life and art. She uses the idea of the Project to explore these ideas, whether or not the project is ever completed, or ever seen or appreciated by anyone else. The many digressions into history, philosophy, etc, enhance the story. This is a thought provoking novel with sympathetic characters.
  • Lucy S. (Ann Arbor, MI)
    Memorable, vivid, and tender
    In Activities of Daily Living, Lisa Hsiao Chen expertly weaves together two storylines: The Father, in which main character Alice is caring for her aging step-father, and The Artist, in which Alice is creating a project that studies the works of performance artist Teching Hsieh.

    Both storylines examine time, how it is used, viewed, and passed. The structure of the book reflects this theme through its nonlinear chronology. Time skips around, is loose, a character itself. Chen deftly uses Alice's project to inform readers about true-to-life events and people in the art world, while easily bringing us back to the moving story of a man succumbing to dementia.

    This amazing book asks whether a life without creativity is worth living, and is the act of creativity more important than the outcome. It is a mediation on the importance of art and what we do with the passing of time.
  • Melissa C. (Saint Johns, FL)
    Pondering the meaning of "time"
    I didn't know what to expect from this book, other than reading rave reviews. And I have to agree, this book is wonderful. Rarely do I find myself wanting to re-read passages to fully absorb what the author is saying. Anyone who has experienced caring for an elderly or sick loved one will find themselves nodding or shaking their heads in concert with Alice, the main character, as she contends with caring for her dying stepfather and contemplating the meaning of "time."
  • Wendy A. (Durham, NC)
    A Tale of Two Projects
    Lisa Hsiao Chen's first novel, "Activities of Daily Living," presents two projects. The first project, about Tehching Hsieh (The Artist), a New York-based performance artist who undertakes year-long projects (but art?) whom the main character, Alice, researches for a project with no seeming end. The second project is about caring for Alice's step-father (the Father), who descends into dementia with a definite ending. What ties the two projects together is the concept of time and how it is perceived by The Artist, the Father and Alice herself. Living a bi-coastal life between Alice's Brooklyn home and the Father's residence in the Bay Area from his home, to skilled nursing facilities to memory care units, the concept of time for Alice and the Father take on a devastating, thankless journey when the brain can no longer count on neurotransmitters, clocks and lacking the ability to undertake activities of daily living (ADLs), known as dressing, personal hygiene, toileting and remembering, demarcating the depths of dementia.

    The Artist project is done at a distance although many opportunities presented themselves for Alice to speak with Hsieh, she demurs. The Father project is a deep-dive sort where love and closeness are a marked contrast to Alice's distance from The Artist. Then, there are all the other "ouvres" introduced in the novel providing dimension (albeit distracting!) with references to art and literature, however disjointed they seem. I am sure the "dots connected" for the author, but not for this reader. What did connect, however, is the pain of losing a loved one to the black hole of dementia and "the long goodbye". The novel is worth a read, slowly, re-reading chapters (get a highlighter) to ponder time and ADLs in your own life and others' conception of time, with whom you are close or from whom you are distant.
  • Barbara P. (Mountain Center, CA)
    Life is Art
    Let me say what this book is not: It is not light reading for the beach or plane. It is a well thought out narrative of often eccentric characters living and expressing and muddling through. Though happening on both the West and East coasts, there is definitely a New York rhythm and cadence to the book. You may begin wondering how it all fits together, and then you appreciate the art of choosing and living and caring and care giving.

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