Shifting restlessly from dark to light and back again, written in lithe, precise prose, the stories in Phoebe Tsang’s debut collection illuminate the lives of those who exist inside otherness.
A young Asian woman, an artistic over-achiever turned drifter, endures a mind-bending night of reckoning as she struggles to find her way “home,” careening between flirtation and thievery, dream and memory. A reality TV star obsesses about the real stain that blemishes the set of her fake, made-for-TV life. A modern fairytale is told from the point of view of a fox having an argument with its enemy, hunger. A heart-broken accountant goes on a pilgrimage to India to get his fire back, and his attempt to attain mercy from the most holy of rivers fizzles like his former fiancée’s tepid devotion.
The seventeen stories in Setting Fire to Water unfold outside the Canadian mainstream, where longing—for home, for love, for artistic achievement, for spiritual fulfillment—is a given, and acceptance—of self, of the knowability of others, of the limits to knowing—is always in question. Using unconventional storylines and slippages in time and space, these stories explore the mystical possibilities inherent in contemporary life.