Join BookBrowse today and get access to free books, our twice monthly digital magazine, and more.

BookBrowse Reviews Spider Love Song and Other Stories by Nancy Au

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Read-Alikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Spider Love Song and Other Stories

by Nancy Au

Spider Love Song and Other Stories by Nancy Au X
Spider Love Song and Other Stories by Nancy Au
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Paperback:
    Oct 2019, 184 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Cook
Buy This Book

About this Book

Reviews

BookBrowse:


Spider Love Song and Other Stories is an eclectic mixture of distinctive characters and offbeat plots.

"I like when things don't work, but they do," ten-year-old Sophie Chu writes in her journal. When Sophie, whose parents have gone missing in the title piece of Nancy Au's collection Spider Love Song and Other Stories, writes this line, she has just finished explaining how her closet door "doesn't close properly" but "sort of sticks shut." The book as a whole features people whose lives don't work "properly," but who endeavor to make them work anyway.

Au's characters are stubborn and resilient, and they often express these qualities in oddly specific ways. In "Wearing My Skin," a mother recalls how she consumed an entire peach, pit and all, before leaving China to build a new life with her young daughter in the U.S. In "Louise," a woman finds herself in a communication breakdown with her wife, who, in making a case for adopting a duck they encounter in a city park, declares, "You can't marry someone, tell them you don't want a baby, and then take away their only duck." In "Spider Love Song," Sophie continues wearing the elephant Halloween costume she had on the day her parents disappeared for the following three years. The absurd nature of these characters' approaches to life casually sidesteps societal expectations surrounding love, grief and loneliness, while infusing their stories with originality and individuality.

While the collection contains plenty of funny and unforeseen moments, it never comes across as simply trying to be subversive or draw laughs. Its off-kilter approach to realism, which occasionally includes elements of magic and fantasy, makes space for characters to tackle personal situations with power born of their own experience. In "How to Become Your Own Odyssey, or The Land of Indigestion," nine-year-old Edmund Wong at first strives to emulate his sleepwalking and sleep-eating father, who (supposedly) goes on dream adventures that cause him to ransack the refrigerator and leave messes on the kitchen floor for his pregnant wife to clean up in the morning. However, in attempting his own late-night food raid, Edmund begins to empathize with his mother and confront the cost of these escapades.

Many of the characters in Spider Love Song are women and children in the Chinese American immigrant community (see Beyond the Book) who attempt to fight patriarchal or white supremacist structures. While this might sound depressing, the tone of their stories is often triumphant. In "She Is a Battleground," Au describes an eighty-year-old Chinese woman, who some neighborhood boys make the mistake of harassing, in words that would make any woman's enemies wither to insignificance:

She is sex. She is useful poison. She is a survivor of wars. She is a dream. She is a sarcastic beast.

Au blends a lyrical style, like that above, with more matter-of-fact prose. Her stories have a purely aesthetic draw, but even those that are shorter and more poetic work to incorporate interesting plot arcs. Some stories evince a more natural momentum than others, but they all lead the reader to new territory, often stopping on unexpected notes.

The pieces in Au's book are satisfying enough to read individually, but the central role played by the title story really elevates the collection as a whole. "Spider Love Song" hasn't only given its name to the book; it serves as its beating heart. The closing of the story, which employs a vivid and surprising flashback, feels like the emotional climax of the collection. It lingers throughout the remaining stories and embraces the previous ones retroactively, providing a well-earned sense of continuity.

Like Sophie's closet door, Spider Love Song and Other Stories might not work the way it's "supposed to," or the way you would it expect it to, but that only adds to the sense of exhilaration you feel when it works all the same.

Reviewed by Elisabeth Cook

This review first ran in the November 13, 2019 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Read-Alikes

Read-Alikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked Spider Love Song and Other Stories, try these:

We have 10 read-alikes for Spider Love Song and Other Stories, but non-members are limited to two results. To see the complete list of this book's read-alikes, you need to be a member.
Search read-alikes
How we choose read-alikes

Support BookBrowse

Join our inner reading circle, go ad-free and get way more!

Find out more


Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: The Sicilian Inheritance
    The Sicilian Inheritance
    by Jo Piazza
    Sara Marsala is going through a rough patch, to say the least. In the process of divorcing from her ...
  • Book Jacket: The Light Eaters
    The Light Eaters
    by Zoë Schlanger
    The human race is completely dependent on plants. Many people, however, give little thought to ...
  • Book Jacket: Joy Is the Justice We Give Ourselves
    Joy Is the Justice We Give Ourselves
    by J Drew Lanham
    As a recipient of the MacArthur "Genius" Grant, and a Professor of Wildlife Ecology and Master ...
  • Book Jacket: Glorious Exploits
    Glorious Exploits
    by Ferdia Lennon
    Lampo and Gelon are two unemployed potters in their thirties whose lives are spent between their ...

BookBrowse Book Club

Book Jacket
Only the Beautiful
by Susan Meissner
A heartrending story about a young mother’s fight to keep her daughter, and the terrible injustice that tears them apart.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Daughters of Shandong
    by Eve J. Chung

    Eve J. Chung's debut novel recounts a family's flight to Taiwan during China's Communist revolution.

  • Book Jacket

    This Strange Eventful History
    by Claire Messud

    An immersive, masterful story of a family born on the wrong side of history.

Win This Book
Win Only the Brave

Only the Brave by Danielle Steel

A powerful, sweeping historical novel about a courageous woman in World War II Germany.

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

F T a T

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.