Named one of the best books of April by The New York Times, Salon, The Millions, and Vogue, and featuring stories that have appeared in Harper’s, Granta, The Atlantic, and The Paris Review, this revelatory book of fiction from O. Henry Award winner Souvankham Thammavongsa establishes her as an essential new voice in Canadian and world literature. Told with compassion and wry humour, these stories honour characters struggling to find their bearings far from home, even as they do the necessary “grunt work of the world.”
A young man painting nails at the local salon. A woman plucking feathers at a chicken processing plant. A father who packs furniture to move into homes he’ll never afford. A housewife learning English from daytime soap operas. In her stunning debut book of fiction, O. Henry Award winner Souvankham Thammavongsa focuses on characters struggling to make a living, illuminating their hopes, disappointments, love affairs, acts of defiance, and above all their pursuit of a place to belong. In spare, intimate prose charged with emotional power and a sly wit, she paints an indelible portrait of watchful children, wounded men, and restless women caught between cultures, languages, and values. As one of Thammavongsa’s characters says, “All we wanted was to live.” And in these stories, they do–brightly, ferociously, unforgettably.
A daughter becomes an unwilling accomplice in her mother’s growing infatuation with country singer Randy Travis. A boxer finds an unexpected chance at redemption while working at his sister’s nail salon. An older woman finds her assumptions about the limits of love unravelling when she begins a relationship with her much younger neighbour. A school bus driver must grapple with how much he’s willing to give up in order to belong. And in the Commonwealth Short Story Prize-shortlisted title story, a young girl’s unconditional love for her father transcends language.
Unsentimental yet tender, and fiercely alive, How to Pronounce Knife announces Souvankham Thammavongsa as one of the most striking voices of her generation.