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ISBN 978-0-909585-01-1
First published February 2014; 216 pp paperback with endpapers; 210 x 135 mm
click here to read a pdf excerpt.
May-Lan Tan grew up in Hong Kong, where her family had migrated from Indonesia. She lived in Northern California before moving to London to study art at Goldsmiths. May-Lan Tan’s fiction has been published in Zoetrope: All-Story and The Atlas Review (US) and in Areté and The Reader (UK). Her chapbook Girly was published by Future Tense/Scout Books (US) in spring 2014.
Click here to visit May-Lan Tan’s website.

May-Lan Tan  Things to Make and Break

Guardian First Book Award shortlist 2014

‘So here is what I, my having just two seconds ago finished getting myself jazzed crazy by Things to Make and Break, am wagering when it comes to May-Lan Tan – to wit, that some smart gobbet of the populace will, five years hence, be found entering her name onto a list of those whose first-hand reports from the interior can be counted upon when, at the world-wide betting window, it’s time to risk what’s left of time. Nah, I’ve reconsidered – make it two and a half years.’
     – Gordon Lish

A motorcycle courier finds a cache of nude photos in her boyfriend’s desk. The daughter of East German emigrants encounters her doppelgänger, who has crossed another cultural divide. Twin brothers fall for the same girl. When a stripper receives an enigmatic proposal from a client, she accepts, ignorant of its terms.

Shadows, doubles, and the ghosts of past and future lovers haunt these elegantly structured and often hallucinatory stories. The language is hypnotic, deadpan, intense; the sentences jewel-hard and sublime. Things to Make and Break marks the debut of a stylish, exuberant new voice in modern fiction.

‘Tan’s excellent debut follows loners and outcasts, and contains several metaphorical car crashes, one fake one and one actual, brutal, skid off the road. Born in Indonesia, Tan has lived in Hong Kong and the US and is now based in the UK. These 11 stories range over those territories, focusing both on obvious drama (murder, crucifixion, wild drug use) and the seemingly less consequential (a conversation between a rich child and her maid, an argument between two Iron Maiden-loving teenagers) ... There’s plenty of darkness and a sprinkling of magic, and these strange, flinty, cigarette-stained narratives speed by, offering lots of surface tension and compelling deeper passions.’
     – James Smart,

‘That May-Lan Tan was shortlisted for the Literary Review’s Bad Sex in Fiction Award is surprising. She does not write badly about sex –she writes very well about bad sex, which is not the same thing. And not only bad sex – it’s sometimes disturbing, sometimes funny, always refreshingly explicit and, in one episode, spell-bindingly weird and transgressive. And she writes in character, often with quite dazzling ventriloquial skill ... Tan is a cinematic writer in the same way some directors are literary – think of David Lynch at his most Guignol.’
     – David Collard, Times Literary Supplement

‘Tan focuses on characters contorting themselves, sometimes physically, sometimes emotionally, sometimes both. In cases where the structures are more traditional, the arrangements are still varied: she’ll make use of fractured chronology, or of omissions of certain events that prove crucial. As reader, you may find gaps that call out to be bridged, with the reasons for those spaces left for you to figure out … She also does things that have no business working, yet do. “Candy Glass” is written in a style that blends first-person narration with elements of the screenplay format. Written out, this doesn’t inspire confidence; on the page, though, it works perfectly … In May-Lan Tan’s fiction, even the familiar becomes fresh, and even the most unsympathetic receive empathy. The thirteen stories found in these two books [Things to Make and Break and the chapbook Girly] are a fantastic introduction to a writer in the process of teaching us new ways of reading.’
     – Tobias Carroll, Volume 1 Brooklyn