How do we survive our family, stay bound to our community, and keep from losing ourselves? In All That Work and Still No Boys, Kathryn Ma exposes the deepest fears and longings that we mask in family life and observes the long shadows cast by history and displacement.
Here are ten stories that wound and satisfy in equal measure. Ma probes the immigrant experience, most particularly among northern California’s Chinese Americans, illuminating for us the confounding nature of duty, transformation, and loss. A boy exposed to racial hatred finds out the true difference between his mother and his father. Two old rivals briefly lay down their weapons, but loneliness and despair won’t let them forget the past. A young Beijing tour guide with a terrible family secret must take an adopted Chinese girl and her American family to visit an orphanage. And in the prize-winning title story, a mother refuses to let her son save her life, insisting instead on a sacrifice by her daughter.
Intimate in detail and universal in theme, these stories give us the compelling voice of an exciting new author whose intelligence, insight, and wit impart a sense of grace to the bitter resentments and enduring ties that comprise family love. Even through the tensions Ma creates so deftly, the peace and security that come from building and belonging to one’s own community shine forth.
“With subtle intelligence and wry humor, Kathryn Ma brings us characters whose lives are complicated—in all the best ways—by family, race, immigration, and quirks of personality. These wonderful stories have the resonance of truth even as they make you see the world in new ways.”—Curtis Sittenfeld, author, American Wife
“Kathryn Ma is a wonderful writer. Subtle, complex, funny, touching, these stories deliver a world of characters I shall not forget.”—Lynn Freed, author, The Servants' Quarters
“Kathryn Ma’s All That Work and Still No Boys negotiates with a brisk and wry dispatch the minor and major agonies of family crises and renders with admirable efficiency and power the subterranean stresses in any intimate history. Her characters and relationships are drawn with an enviable grace and a clarity and a compassionate insight that honors both their pain and their ongoing attempts, however imperfect, to pitch in on one another’s behalf.”— Jim Shepard, author, Like You’d Understand, Anyway
All That Work and Still No Boys / 1
Second Child / 21
The Scottish Play / 38
For Sale By Owner / 56
Prank / 66
What I Know Now / 83
Dougie / 105
The Long Way Home / 121
Gratitude / 130
Mrs. Zhao and Mrs. Wu / 142