Spider Love Song
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.
Jennifer S. Cheng, author of House A and Moon: Letters, Maps, Poems
"Tender and strange, startling and lyrical, each story in this extraordinary debut collection invokes, like a poem, a deep unsayable that draws heartbreakingly close and can almost be touched. 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."
Muriel Leung, author of Bone Confetti
"The lush and vibrant world of Nancy Au’s Spider Love Song and Other Stories is teeming with somnambulist fathers, one-eyed duck children, dreams of an all Chinese American Atlantis, storytelling fox spirits, orphans seeking the cure for grief and more. 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."
May-lee Chai, author of Useful Phrases for Immigrants: Stories and Dragon Chica: A Novel
"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."
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. Characters struggle with the entanglements of the living and the dead, like the ‘spiders' webs [that] can wind around anything that doesn’t pay attention,’ while they long to be out in the world that both compels and terrifies. I was spellbound by Au’s unique vision and language that pay attention to the many wild, rich worlds that hold us.”
Carolina De Robertis, author of Cantoras
"These stories sparkle with life and secrets, joy and power, pain and hilarity and sharp insights into the human heart. Nancy Au is a rare and blazing talent, and this debut collection is a house of wonders, thrilling and unforgettable."
INTERVIEW between the author and the cover artist, MONICA CANILAO:
Monica Canilao is the artist who created the extraordinary paper quilt that was photographed for SPIDER LOVE SONG AND OTHER STORIES book cover. The following is an interview between myself and the incredible artist, where Monica describes, in her own beautiful words, her process and inspirations.
Nancy Au: What first inspired you to create this paper quilt?
Monica Canilao: I have always been attracted to the look, the feel, the vibration and the history of old things . . . especially paper. I have always collected found and vintage paper and use it within a majority of the work I have made. It is ephemeral and versatile, and like water can take many forms, can be applied in applications that range from extremely delicate, to a material that can last thousands of years. It was something that was once growing and goes through metamorphosis. Based on this deep reverence for paper that has seen age, I choose to work with it for many reasons: Because it is light and can be easily stored and transported when I used to only have a bicycle and traveled a lot. Because paper is accessible to pretty much anyone. Because I can sew through it, cut into it, collage and print on it and add and take away without hesitation.
The paper I gather has also acted as a living journal of places I have been, peeled wallpaper from abandoned buildings once on fire that have long since crumbled to ash. They are memories preserved of others’ lives.
I used to draw cities a lot and have always been obsessed with what marks people leave on this earth, on their possessions, on the things we create, and on each other. The interconnectedness and 10 degrees of separation becoming 3 or 4. The more we experience, the more we become connected.
I tried to draw upon all of the things happening in a place that is lived in all at once, everyone leading their different lives and sometimes crossing paths. Sometimes one action effecting great change that sends out ripples . . . happiness, sadness, change, upheaval, growth in communities. All Cities are living, and so I tried to capture that feeling in this quilt.
NA: What inspired the beautiful name, ‘Pretend that we are mortal”?
MC: ‘Pretend that we are mortal’… all of this is temporary. We came from dust and we will return to dust. And with that knowledge we need to try to live our best lives and treat people kindly. No one is going to live forever no matter how well off you are, and death will come to us all the same.
NA: What does the house and figure mean to you? Who is the ghost-twin figure that they are speaking to?
MC: The girl wearing her home on her back is an image I have been drawing since I was a teenager. She is a representation of me and every person . . . picking up things and experiences as they move through living. It is the baggage of our happiness and pain, our fears and lessons learned. It changes shape as we change, and the weight grows as we gain experience and age . . . a complex balancing act of thriving and surviving everything we have been through. All of it carried with us on our backs, our experiences are our home.
The ghosts are our ancestors and all of the peoples that came before us. We must speak to them and learn the history of the places we are dwelling and where we travel. It’s important to look to the past for its wisdom. The ghost is how each of us came to be and where our bloodlines stream from. It’s lost traditions fading.
NA: What type of tea is in the tea bags? Did you drink all of that tea while making this piece?
MC: So I am really bad at drinking water. Tea has always been my go-to drink to have alongside me while I work. Tea bags are just small pieces of paper dyed by a plant. The stain holds a memory and I used to save all my tea bags because I liked how they looked, as an archive of working hours. Another collection of objects saved to be transformed and given new life.