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Lindsay Wong in Vancouver, in October, 2018.Jackie Dives/The Globe and Mail

“What do you call immigration? It’s a horror story in itself, right?” says Lindsay Wong, author of Tell Me Pleasant Things about Immortality, a collection of short stories out this month. The book (with the intent of being sinister) holds 13 horror stories, all of which tour the Chinese-Canadian experience.

Wong is the author of critically acclaimed memoir The Woo-Woo: How I Survived Ice Hockey, Drug Raids, Demons, and My Crazy Chinese Family, which was a 2019 Canada Reads finalist. With that debut work, Wong introduced blunt narratives about mental health and abuse in immigrant households.

In her follow-up release, Wong uses short stories to emphasize that discomfort even further. “I really wanted to focus on the questions surrounding how we survive family secrets and intergenerational trauma,” she says. “How do we carry it, without necessarily thriving, and how do we persist through it, regardless?”

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Tell Me Pleasant Things about Immortality, by Lindsay Wong.Supplied

Each of the stories featured in Wong’s latest collection recount narratives in which the afterlives of the deceased lead to the continuation, or shadowing, of trauma already present in their lived lives. Parents die and return as inanimate furniture; children attempt, and sometimes succeed, in killing their caregivers. Those who are born and deemed ugly are a burden to their families. Grandparents resent the young.

These stories are centred on Chinese superstitions, permeated with a darkness Wong seems spectacularly unafraid of. All of the stories in this book are written in the first person, Wong says, to keep the reader centred. “It’s almost like you’re possessing a character and you get to see the world through their eyes,” she says.

The stories in Tell Me Pleasant Things – like the Southeast Asian folklore I grew up with myself – are filled with vulgar observations: Fart jokes are common, eyeballs hang off faces, limbs are twisted, the dead carry on living while sitting in foul smells. Is this an Asian thing, I wonder?

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Wong answers in the affirmative. “There’s a bluntness in our humour, which I think a lot of Westerners are kind of shocked by,” she says. “You know, there’s no Victorians in Chinese culture, and so it’s very normal for people to talk about their bowel movements at the dinner table, right? The body is funny and it’s full of horror – I wanted to play on that.”

In our interview, Wong continuously doubles down on her belief that life is horrible. But she’s also quick to emphasize that she finds humour in the grimness. “I think a sense of humour is really important, you know, for the characters and for the reader,” she says. “And so often I think there’s joy in tragedy, right?”

In Wong’s stories, the afterlife only drags out the pain of the everyday; immortality is frightening, not aspirational. “I think people have this glamorous idea of living forever, and being young, and in these stories, I wanted characters to be actually falling apart from time and the grotesqueness of it all,” she says. Because,” she insists, one final time, “life can be horrible and horrendous.”

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