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Excerpt from Win Me Something by Kyle Lucia Wu, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Win Me Something

by Kyle Lucia Wu

Win Me Something by Kyle Lucia Wu X
Win Me Something by Kyle Lucia Wu
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  • Paperback:
    Nov 2021, 272 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Cook
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Print Excerpt

Win Me Something

New York City, 2013

I didn't know what it looked like to take care of someone. I imagined that being a nanny meant watching a small person bounce her backpack home from school, microwaving chicken nuggets on a paper-toweled plate, and lying with an arm folded behind my head while the bright colors of a cartoon flashed. The intricacies of it hadn't occurred to me—that I'd have to sniff her palms to discern the citrus scent of soap and scrape dirt from underneath her fingernails. How I'd end up eating a room-temperature scoop of macaroni and cheese off her plate and raking lice shampoo through her soapy scalp. Maybe I couldn't imagine these moments because when someone asked about my childhood, my mind clenched and closed like two fists in a pool—fingers squeezing for something to come up with when everything around them was a different kind of matter.

I had parents. I had siblings. I had homes, multiple or zero, depending on how you looked at it. I wasn't un-loved, not uncared for, exactly. It was cloudier than that, ink spreading in water as I tried to claim the words. If you're undercared for, but essentially fine, what do you do with all that hurt, the kind that runs through your tendons and tugs on your muscles, but doesn't show up on your skin? There were harder things in the world, hundreds of them. I floated silently through.


It was a swampy day in early August when I interviewed with the Adriens. I stood in front of my window unit damply, asking the cool air to soak me up. I picked out my most conservative dress, navy-blue cotton that reached just above my knees. It had straps that I thought too flimsy for the occasion, so I dug out a whispery, pale yellow cardigan from the back of my dresser drawer—something I'd bought on sale, thinking I might have a professional opportunity to wear it to. And now I did, in Tribeca at two o'clock.

I had only a muddy sense of why I was going. I sank into an orange seat and felt the train lurch forward, at home in my unease. It seemed like I often sat still while the pieces of my life rearranged around me, my only job to be stoic and unmoved, to come up for air and readjust once they stopped shifting. But there was a reason for this interview, I reminded myself: a move out of one service industry into another, a change of hours from late nights working the bar or early mornings at the coffee shop, to afternoons and early evenings—hours to make a life around. That appealed to me. The idea of opening my day up to something more—to echo the sleeping patterns of the rest of the city, to chisel out some vision for my future self—the hope that it might find me.

The lobby held no trace of the heat wave. A uniformed doorman held open one of the wide glass doors and the glacial air urged me in. I told him I was here to see the Adriens.

"Willa, right?" he said, kindly. "They're expecting you." He walked me to the elevator, and I stepped inside, wanting to stay for a moment before pressing the button, but then I saw him turn a key and press the number 5 before moving back into the lobby. After one short whoosh, the doors opened again, and Nathalie was standing in her entryway. Even though I knew they had the whole floor, I wasn't expecting to be inside their home so quickly. I stepped off the elevator, the sun in my eyes, and held my hand up like a visor. I felt the slipperiness of my underarms and elbows and backs of my knees, prickled by the central air. The entryway had more floor space than my bedroom, where I walked two steps from bed to dresser to doorway. The living room stretched a million feet out in front of me, with floor-to-ceiling windows wrapping around each side, a view of sloping buildings and looming silvery towers. There was a cream-colored sectional couch with space for ten in front of a gleaming glass coffee table, and a wide dining table past that with clear Lucite chairs neatly tucked around the sides. The last family I had worked for, the Ericksons, had not been this rich. Their apartment in Park Slope was much bigger than mine, but recognizable: it was a place where people lived, a place I could imagine myself into, in some distant future when I had learned to make correct decisions. But this home—the Adriens' home—I would have imagined a literal castle, a gold-walled Versailles, before this real-world counterpart, a living room the size of a basketball court in downtown Manhattan. That you could wake up and eat toast in a place like this.

Excerpted from Win Me Something by Kyle Lucia Wu. Published with permission from Tin House. Copyright (c) 2021 by Kyle Lucia Wu.

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