How To Pronounce Knife

Little, Brown. Apr. 2020. 192p. ISBN 9780316422130. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780316422116.
DEBUT In under 200 pages, Canadian poet Thammavongsa showcases 14 spectacular stories in her fiction debut. Born to Lao parents in a Thai refugee camp and raised and educated in Toronto, Thammavongsa parses her own culturally amalgamated heritage through most of her narratives here, some previously published. The collection opens with the Commonwealth Short Story Prize short-listed title story, a poignant, eyes-wide-open exploration of a young girl’s embarrassed realization of how little her immigrant father seems to know. Other lingering standouts are many, including the 2019 O. Henry–prized “Slingshot,” which introduces a did-that-really-happen relationship between a 70-year-old woman and her 32-year-old neighbor; “Randy Travis,” in which the famous singer unknowingly plays a vital role in a refugee family’s lives; “Mani Pedi,” about a would-be boxer who becomes a popular worker in his sister’s nail salon; “Edge of the World,” about a daughter who recalls the circumstances of her missing mother’s distinct laugh; and “You Are So Embarrassing,” in which a mother’s only contact with her adult daughter is to observe her life from afar.
VERDICT Cosmopolitan aficionados of pristine short fiction--think Paul Yoon, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Phil Klay--will want to read. [See Prepub Alert, 10/7/19.]
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