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A Conversation With PEN America Best Debut Short Stories 2018 Author Lin King
“I wanted to address old-age sexuality, which is in general completely unmentioned in Taiwanese society.”
Wu Mayling never knew the pains of dieting. She had always been thin and pale. When she was a child, this had caused her nurse much anxiety, especially when other women would pinch Mayling’s spare cheeks and shake their heads in disapproval. As a teenager, her scrawny figure led her mother to accuse the nurse of undernourishing Mayling. How will she ever find a husband, she cried, with those bony hips?
The nurse was dismissed, and her paychecks used to hire a new cook, a man with a formidable waistline and a head like a monk’s. He was ordered to make pig feet stew once a week and chicken broth twice a week. But despite his best efforts, Mayling’s body remained lean. The nutrition had to go somewhere, however, and instead of cushioning her bones it seeped inside them, making her taller than her mother and, in time, even than the cook.
In the fall of 1969, Mayling left her home in the south to attend the Teachers College in Taipei. Her mother had ordered the maid to sew cotton padding into the linings of her dresses to soften Mayling’s harsh edges. By the time of her graduation, however, Mayling was wearing new, unpadded dresses that she had purchased with her allowance. A few of the dresses were even sleeveless, and these she hid in the bottoms of her suitcases, safe from parental discovery.
Still, the line had to be drawn somewhere, and despite her diploma-boosted confidence and head full of Carly Simon lyrics, Mayling did not own any denim.
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“When you’re a kid you’re not sure if you don’t know something because you haven’t been taught it or because you’re not supposed to know.”
“I think, in pursuit of truth, science and religion still have to wrestle with the strictures of human knowledge, error, pride.”
“The narration style feels very conversational to me. I liked how second-person really tries to make the reader part of the story as well.”
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“My focus was on the character and emotions of the immigrant: the loneliness, the sense of loss and disconnection.”
“When you feel like you have no power in a relationship, withholding becomes one of the only ways you can maintain the illusion of agency.”
“Some stories just flow out of you and you try to keep up as you write them. This story was not like that.”