‘Tell Me Pleasant Things About Immortality’ is a collection of 13 short stories

A former Vancouverite is offering a supernatural twist on immigrant horror stories in her new book.

Her first book, The Woo-Woo: How I Survived Ice Hockey, Drug Raids, Demons, and My Crazy Chinese Family, has been described as a “darkly comic” coming-of-age memoir that offers a moving look at the Asian immigrant experience as well as a frank depiction of the impact of mental illness on a family. Her second book, My Summer of Love and Misfortune, was pithily summed up as Confessions of a Shopaholic meets Crazy Rich Asians. Now, author Lindsay Wong, a former Vancouverite now based out of Winnipeg, is back with Tell Me Pleasant Things About Immortality – a collection of 13 short stories.

While Tell Me Pleasant Things About Immortality isn’t her first work of fiction, it does see Wong explore the horror genre for the first time, an experience she found quite liberating.

“I’ve always been interested in writing about the immigrant experience. And we tend to always look at it from a very sad, realistic lens,” she explained. “And so, for me, it became really important to incorporate these elements of mythology and horror. I think there’s something wonderful about the horror genre, you can do all sorts of things that you wouldn’t normally use, if you’re writing about it in a contemporary way.”

“I think for me, it’s really about the immigrant experience. There’s usually so much suffering and pain and turmoil. But for me, there’s also absurdity in it and humour.”

But Wong doesn’t set out to merely shock or frighten. There is plenty of social commentary beneath the images of fathers turning into monsters or women spontaneously losing body parts.

“In Asian culture, we are so obsessed with looks. We think that a low forehead means someone would be born with low IQ. We also think someone with small ears is really lucky. And so, there’s that [emphasis] on luck and looks,” she said.

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The book opens with “Happy Birthday” a story where the main character, the family patriarch, turns into a monster during a gathering of his loved ones. Then there is “Tell Me Pleasant Things About Immortality,” the story from which the collection takes its name. Here, the main character becomes the world’s oldest woman despite eating a poisonous night-blooming death lily. However, one doesn’t get to be the world’s oldest living person without losing some body parts along the way. That is followed by “The Ugliest Girls” which speaks directly to the immigrant experience. Here, a group of girls deemed ugly by their families is sent to live in a faraway place called the Gold Mountain. Gold Mountain – or “Gum San” – was a term used Chinese immigrants to refer to California, British Columbia, and the Australian colonies after the discovery of gold in these places sparked global gold rushes. Wong also shows some of her Vancouver roots with “Wreck Beach,” the fifth story in the book, which is a coming-of-age tale where the fathers are missing because they have turned into crows.

For Wong, storytelling isn’t just a form of expression but of survival.

“You know, Joan Didion said, ‘We tell ourselves stories to live,’ but for women of colour, it’s really about ‘We tell ourselves stories to survive.'”

She hopes the reader comes away seeing a bit of themselves reflected to them.

“We are a country of immigrants who are also people who are going through everyday society. We all have wants and desires and sometimes we don’t get what we want, unfortunately, and hopefully that cycle doesn’t continue into death,” she said.

Tell Me Pleasant Things About Immortality is published by Penguin Canada.

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