The Unpassing (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
One of Esquire, The Rumpus, The Millions, Literary Hub and Electric Literature's Most Anticipated Books of 2019
A searing debut novel that explores community, identity, and the myth of the American dream through an immigrant family in Alaska
In Chia-Chia Lin’s debut novel, The Unpassing, we meet a Taiwanese immigrant family of six struggling to make ends meet on the outskirts of Anchorage, Alaska. The father, hardworking but beaten down, is employed as a plumber and repairman, while the mother, a loving, strong-willed, and unpredictably emotional matriarch, holds the house together. When ten-year-old Gavin contracts meningitis at school, he falls into a deep, nearly fatal coma. He wakes up a week later to learn that his little sister Ruby was infected, too. She did not survive.
Routine takes over for the grieving family: the siblings care for each other as they befriend a neighboring family and explore the woods; distance grows between the parents as they deal with their loss separately. But things spiral when the father, increasingly guilt ridden after Ruby’s death, is sued for not properly installing a septic tank, which results in grave harm to a little boy. In the ensuing chaos, what really happened to Ruby finally emerges.
With flowing prose that evokes the terrifying beauty of the Alaskan wilderness, Lin explores the fallout after the loss of a child and the way in which a family is forced to grieve in a place that doesn’t yet feel like home. Emotionally raw and subtly suspenseful, The Unpassing is a deeply felt family saga that dismisses the American dream for a harsher, but ultimately more profound, reality.
Advance Praise for The Unpassing
"In this spare, deeply felt debut novel, Lin resists received wisdom about the American dream to craft a family saga about the difficulty of grieving far from home." --Adrienne Westenfeld, Esquire
"Stunning . . . With powerful and poetic prose, Lin captures the uncertainty and insight of childhood . . . Lin's majestic writing immerses the reader in the bodily experiences of her characters, who writhe, paw, dig, salivate, and draw readers into their world." --Maggie Taft, Booklist (starred review)
“I can’t stop thinking about The Unpassing. Chia-Chia Lin captures the strangeness and beauty of childhood better than any writer in recent memory, and she is a brilliant observer of physical and emotional landscapes. Readers should be excited: this debut novel, a true work of art, displays the kind of clear and uniquely-angled vision that announces the beginning of a remarkable career.” ―Jamel Brinkley, author of A Lucky Man
"The Unpassing is a breathtaking novel, full of characters as strong and as wild as the Alaskan landscape they inhabit.Sentence after gorgeous sentence, I was pulled into their eery and beautiful world. Chia-Chia Lin is a remarkable writer." ―Yaa Gyasi, author of Homegoing
“Like the landscape it inhabits, this brilliant novel is composed of equal parts mystery, menace, and ravishment. It’s difficult to think of another recent book in which emotion mounts so steadily and inexorably, nearly imperceptibly, until the last pages arrive with almost unbearable force. Chia-Chia Lin is among the best new writers I’ve read in years.” ―Garth Greenwell, author of What Belongs to You
“Chia-Chia Lin’s The Unpassing is a searing, open wound of a book, marvelously alive and, quite simply, remarkable. Traversing the oftentimes brutal frontier of an isolated family living in an isolated environment, I can’t think of another novel as of late that relentlessly tackles headlong our deepest struggles for a sense of place, of home, and belonging. How do we push through grief? How do we find peace with not only our loved ones but ourselves? What sacrifices must we endure for friendship and connection? This is a story for our times. And a story unlike any other.” ―Paul Yoon, author of The Mountain
"The Unpassing is a devastating debut, igneous, aching as if with the glow of the great northern skies beneath which it is set. More than meditation on grief; more than immigrant saga, or bildungsroman; more than new American gothic: here, Chia-Chia Lin has written a novel of such strange, brittle beauty as to resemble nothing else so much as living, itself. Her prose―at once poetic and lucid, by turns darkly comic and haunting―achieves something like the peculiar grammar of loss. I turned the last page with heartache and wonder, a feeling of having been undone and remade." ―D. Wystan Owen, author of Other People's Love Affairs
Chia-Chia Lin is a graduate of Harvard College and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her stories have appeared in The Paris Review and other journals. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Unpassing is her first novel.
Photo by F. Yang
Jamel Brinkley is the author of A Lucky Man: Stories, a finalist for the National Book Award in Fiction, the John Leonard Prize, the PEN/Bingham Prize, and the Story Prize, and winner of the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence. His writing has appeared in The Best American Short Stories 2018, among other places. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he is currently a Wallace Stegner Fellow in Fiction at Stanford University.
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