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Summary and book reviews of Spider Love Song and Other Stories by Nancy Au

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
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  • Published:
    Oct 2019, 184 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Cook
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About this Book

Book Summary

Nancy Au's debut collection is rich with scents, sounds, imaginative leaps, and unexpected angles of vision.

These seventeen stories present the challenges facing characters whose inner and outer lives often do not align, whose spirits attempt flight despite dashed hopes and lean circumstances. Marginalized by race, age, and sexuality, they endeavor to create new worlds that honor their identities and their Chinese heritage.

Au excels at inhabiting the minds and hearts of children and the elderly. In the title story, Sophie Chu dresses daily in her increasingly shabby elephant costume to ensure her missing parents recognize her upon their return. In "The Unfed," a village elder seeks to revive, with her dimming magic, a mountain community struck by tragedy. "Louise" follows, with deceptive hilarity (involving a one-eyed duck), the nuanced give and take between May Zhou and Lai, dissimilar yet passionate partners considering parenthood. The volume also offers sparkling speculative work that taps into the strength of nature—fox spirits and fire beetles, swollen rivers and rippling clouds—to showcase the sometimes surreal transformations of Au's protagonists.

Spider Love Song and Other Stories treads the fault line that forms between lovers, families, friends, cultures—exposing injuries and vulnerabilities, but also the strength and courage necessary to recast resentment and anger into wonder and power. Au's lyrical style, humor, and tender attention to her characters' fancies and failings make this powerful debut a delight to read.

Louise

May Zhou and her wife, Lai, ate lunch every Friday on a grassy corner of a city park two blocks from Oakland Community College, where they worked in the bursar's office as accountants. Today they'd met for an early lunch, an hour before noon, but the temperature was already boiling. A thin haze hung in the air, smothering May's appetite.

Lai peeled back the bread on her sandwich and sighed. "I wanted banana on my peanut butter."

"You already ate all the bananas."

May watched as her wife folded the sandwich in half and took a bite out of the center. Lai then lifted the sandwich up to her face and peered at May through the bread's oozing hole. May wondered how Lai, who had the spirited appetite of a teenage girl, and who would eat the horn off a rhino if she was hungry enough, remained so slender while May's own small frame had begun to widen the moment she'd turned thirty, so that she resembled a shrimp dumpling.

Lost in self-consciousness, May did not notice the approaching...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Many of the stories in the collection explore the theme of family. In "The Richmond," for example, the daughter must contend with violence that she does not yet understand, with forced flight from one's home country, with stories told by her parents about historical events that are complex and unfathomable to the eleven-year-old. How are the characters impacted by immigration, or language, or questions of identity? What patterns emerge in these intergenerational relationships?
  2. Damselflies, dragons, slugs, beetles, dogs, turtles, and more. There are many animals and insects that inhabit the pages of this collection. How are nonhuman creatures used in the stories? What do they add to the narratives?
  3. Explore May's relationship with Lai ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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...continued

Full Review Members Only (627 words).

(Reviewed by Elisabeth Cook).

Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
An original and delightfully off-kilter debut collection about searching for a sense of belonging...Only a writer who knows how closely bound are heartbreak and resilience could write stories as emotionally stirring as these.

Foreword Reviews (starred review)
Tremendous in their sensitivity and imagination, these stories layer complex images with a powerful cadence...Au's debut short story collection is resonant, nuanced, and profound, and its views of characters facing difficulty with strength and courage are unique and engaging.

Author Blurb Jennifer S. Cheng, author of House A and Moon: Letters, Maps, Poems
Au's characters are rare and subversive in their multidimensionality, traversing the Chinese diaspora in subtle, complex, and magical ways, all sharing in the intimate condition of being waylaid by the world. Every sentence and image feels sculpted out of clay—careful, astonishing, and wondrously impressed with the fingerprints of their creator.

Author Blurb Muriel Leung, author of Bone Confetti
Darkly funny at times and always profound, Au's imagination lends us magic to feel our way through what it means to be queer, Chinese American, indebted to our mothers and ancestors, and always longing for something more.

Author Blurb May-lee Chai, author of Useful Phrases for Immigrants: Stories and Dragon Chica
Nancy Au writes about badass women, women born as damselfly nymphs in China who become grounded, wingless, in America, mothers and daughters and grandmothers who are sex, who are power, who are sarcastic beasts, who are us. Spider Love Song and Other Stories is a collection like no other. Read it and marvel.

Author Blurb Peg Alford Pursell, author of A Girl Goes into the Forest
Foxes, turtles, ducks, oysters, fish, badgers, beetles, damselflies, bees: all manner of creatures scratch, swim, thrum, and shimmer through these tender and fantastic stories...I was spellbound by Au's unique vision and language that pay attention to the many wild, rich worlds that hold us.

Reader Reviews

Carson Beker

Spider Love Song
This book has become essential to me for comfort, for growth, for complexity, for joy, and for expansion. I can't wait for others to read it.

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Beyond the Book

The History of Chinese Immigration in the United States

Black and white photo of immigrants milling through San Francisco's Chinatown circa 1900Large-scale Chinese immigration to America began in the mid-1800s, partly in response to economic instability in China during the Taiping Rebellion, a civil war that lasted from 1850-1864. Like many others, Chinese immigrants were also drawn by the California Gold Rush.

After the gold rush ended, many Chinese people stayed on in the U.S. to work jobs or start their own businesses. During this time, the Chinese gained a reputation as hard workers who would perform cheap labor. The truth was that many Chinese workers were exploited and given little or no choice in the conditions of their labor, being paid substantially less than white workers and forced to take on more dangerous tasks. When economic depression hit the country in the 1870s...

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