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. ~ACRE BOOKS, University of Cincinnati
*Starred* KIRKUS 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." (Full review here)
*Starred* FOREWARD REVIEWS: "Tremendous in their sensitivity and imagination, these stories layer complex images with a powerful cadence. Their characters struggle to navigate cultural differences and challenging circumstances. . . . 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." (Full review here)
*Featured* review in SHELF AWARENESS: "Fractured families populate Nancy Au's provocative 17-story debut collection, highlighting disappearing parents--whether by choice or by death--and the children left to endure and survive. Au draws on her Chinese heritage in her narratives. . . . [and] proves herself quite adept at sly, affecting humor. . . . By the book's end, Au's unpredictable cast has embodied far-ranging history, cultures, locations and genres, with irreverently engaging results. For short-form connoisseurs, Au's accomplishments will undoubtedly regale and resonate." (Full review here)
*Editor's Choice* January 2020 review in BOOK BROWSE: “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. . . .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. . . . 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. . . . Au blends a lyrical style . . . 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 . . . [and] lead the reader to new territory, often stopping on unexpected notes.” (Full review here)
Carson Beker at Lambda Literary Review: "Recall before you proceed Flannery O’Connor’s warning, that 'you shall know the truth,' if you listen, 'and the truth shall make you odd.' . . . The seventeen stories [in Spider Love Song and Other Stories]. . . are sometimes hilariously, deliciously, or oddly over-the-top (picture a whole field of grass wearing glasses, a recipe for frog skin, a dog wearing goggles) . . . . their silence or invisibility or grief has taken them to depths beyond the conventions of normality. . . .If you listen carefully to Spider Love Song, you might find a place between hearing and imagination, invisibility and wonder–possibly the sound, similar to that of pages turning, of a different kind of small creature suddenly growing wings and remembering what it was like to struggle in the dark, and somehow able to remember both states at once." (Full review here)
Maggie Su at The Cincinnati Review: "...Spider Love Song and Other Stories is a short-story collection about stories—how narratives can be used to construct and deconstruct lived realities. As Au’s characters negotiate difference and isolation, invisibility and hypervisibility, they are constantly imagining. . . . All of Au’s stories have power to wound and comfort, to heal and connect. In an interview, Au states that she “writes for survival and to have a voice.” Through the depth and layers of her characters’ dreams, her stories offer powerfully realized alternate worlds." (Full review here)
Lisa Slage Robinson at Lit Pub: ". . . Nancy Au’s remarkable debut collection, Spider Love Song and Other Stories, explores the Asian American diaspora. Simultaneously modern and ancient, quirky and compelling, the seventeen short stories, flash and fables reveal the complexity of the immigrant and refugee experience. How that experience changes and morphs with each successive generation and yet carries the ancestral DNA, threads of culture and tradition, legend and mythology. . . . Au challenges stereotypes and traditions. Women marry women. Daughters are adored. A mother refuses to honor the birth spirits that would have diminished her daughter. “Math is an asshole.” An eighty-year-old woman, “in her own true myth,” is not “a corny grandmother.” “She is useful poison.” Women are the breadwinners, holding their families together with their wages while husbands/fathers are left behind, lose jobs, or disappear." (Full review here)
Vanessa Fogg, author of The Lilies of Dawn: ". . . these stories probe at family bonds: the hurt and difficulty in them, as well as the love. They are gorgeously strange, vivid, and lyrical. . . . There is humor, grief, gentleness, resilience, and mystery in these tales. Reading them, I was reminded at points of Kelly Link and Haruki Murakami. But Nancy Au’s voice is also distinctly her own. This collection is an announcement of that distinctive, beautiful, brilliant voice to the world." (Full review here)
Jennifer S. Cheng, author of House A and Moon: Letters, Maps, Poems (winner of the 2018 Tarpulin Sky Book Award): "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 (winner of the 2019 American Book Award): "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."
Carolina De Robertis, author of Cantoras (finalist for the 2019 Kirkus Prize): "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."
Nona Caspers, author of The Fifth Woman (winner of the 2018 Foreward Indies Book of the Year): "Every story in Spider Love Song feeds the imagination and the soul. Without apology and with big love, Au gives her characters their full humanity--these people are delightful, ferocious, funny, tender. Readers will await her next book."
Joe Ponepinto, author of Mr. Neutron: "...every one of the people who populate her fictions [are] unique and unusual in the way we all can be, and it’s a remarkable talent to both recognize that trait and be able to inhabit the minds of such a diverse cast. . . each tale comprises something like a visit to the home of an acquaintance, only made during those times which are typically private. Pull up a chair and observe."
Peg Alford Pursell, author of A Girl Goes into the Forest and Show Her a Flower, A Bird, A Shadow (winner of the 2017 Foreward Indies Book of the Year): "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.”
January 2020, Longlisted for the 2020 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Award for Debut Short Fiction Collection
January 2020, BookBrowse's *Featured Author*
January 2020, BookBrowse's *Editor's Choice*
Included BookBrowse's Best Books for October 2019
Book trailer *featured* as the Shelf Awareness Book Trailer of the Day
Foreward Reviews *Featured* Book of the Day