Gods of Want

Stories

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Paperback
$18.00 US
5.19"W x 7.98"H x 0.6"D  
On sale Jun 20, 2023 | 224 Pages | 978-0-593-24160-8
| Grades 9-12 + AP/IB
Startling stories center the bodies, memories, myths, and relationships of Asian American women in “a voracious, probing collection, proof of how exhilarating the short story can be” (The New York Times Book Review, Editors’ Choice)—from the National Book Award “5 Under 35” honoree and author of Bestiary

“Wise, energetic, funny, and wild, Gods of Want displays a boundless imagination anchored by the weight of ancestors and history.”—Kali Fajardo-Anstine, author of Sabrina & Corina and Woman of Light


WINNER OF THE LAMBDA LITERARY AWARD • ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: The New York Times Book Review, NPR, Them, Book Riot

In “Auntland,” a steady stream of aunts adjust to American life by sneaking surreptitious kisses from women at temple, buying tubs of vanilla ice cream to prepare for citizenship tests, and hatching plans to name their daughters “Dog.” In “The Chorus of Dead Cousins,” ghost-cousins cross space, seas, and skies to haunt their live-cousin, wife to a storm chaser. In “Xífù,” a mother-in-law tortures a wife in increasingly unsuccessful attempts to rid the house of her. In “Mariela,” two girls explore one another’s bodies for the first time in the belly of a plastic shark, while in “Virginia Slims,” a woman from a cigarette ad comes to life. And in “Resident Aliens,” a former slaughterhouse serves as a residence to a series of widows, each harboring her own calamitous secrets. 

With each tale, K-Ming Chang gives us her own take on a surrealism that mixes myth and migration, corporeality and ghostliness, queerness and the quotidian. Stunningly told in her feminist fabulist style, these are uncanny stories peeling back greater questions of power and memory.
© Trina Quach
K-Ming Chang is a Kundiman fellow, a Lambda Literary Award finalist, and a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 honoree. She is the author of the novel Bestiary, which was longlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, the PEN/Faulkner Award, and the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award. View titles by K-Ming Chang
Auntland

I had an aunt who went to the dentist and asked to get her tongue pulled. We only do teeth, the dentist said, but did it anyway. She took her tongue home in a jar and flushed it down the toilet and years later a fisherman in Half Moon Bay made the evening news, waving my aunt’s tongue like a flag at the end of his pole. The police are still looking for the body it belonged to. I had an aunt who worked at the Oriental Buffet and stole us a live crab, which my other aunt boiled alive, and when I tried to crack the legs with my teeth the way they did, one of my molars fractured into five and my other aunt, not that other aunt but this other other aunt, spent the rest of the night tweezing tooth-shrapnel out of my gums. I had an aunt who told me not to get braces because it would set off the metal detector at airports and trigger the German shepherds to run out and tackle me and the agents would confiscate my teeth and replace them with rubber bullets and interrogate my mouth with their tongues. I had an aunt who took me to Great America while my mother was at an immigration interview. This aunt refused to get on a roller coaster even though that’s what we paid for. When I told her to get on, she said, The only time I’ll get off the ground is if I’m on an airplane or become an angel. And I told her she’d never become an angel because I saw her kiss a woman that time we were at Costco buying four-ply toilet paper for my mother, who was in the throes of stress diarrhea, induced partially by her upcoming immigration interview and partially because I told her the officers would test if she was truly American by feeding her strawberry soft serve and timing her digestion. I said that’s why it’s called passing a test—because they catch what passes out of your body. If it’s liquid, they don’t let you into the country. So my mother went out and bought two half-gallons of Breyers vanilla to train her body to convert milk into bone and not brown silk. Anyway, my aunt locked me in the parked car, which I said was illegal in America—you can’t even lock dogs in the car—and she walked up to the woman who had been following us while we shopped, a woman I’d recognized from the temple where we prayed to save my grandfather’s polygamist soul, and kissed her. Kissed her so hard, my own lips shriveled like salted slugs. I had an aunt who gave me the lingerie catalog because there were coupons printed in it, though none of us would ever wear underwear with jewels or lace, because jewels and lace need to be worn on the outside so that everyone knows you can afford them. I cut the bottom halves off the women for no reason. At school we watched an Oprah interview where a white woman tells Oprah how she stopped her attacker: by peeing on him. I had an aunt who peed on me one time we shared a mattress. She’d been in the country five months and when I woke up she was trying to shroud the stain with a towel. She said she’d dreamed of being back on the island, peeing onto the roots of a camphor tree that didn’t grow unless it was given water directly from a body. I imagined I was that tree: I grew because my aunts were watering me. I had an aunt who cut my hair for years, until she got early-onset something, some disease named after a man, and then she went around cutting people’s earlobes on purpose, sneaking up behind them with her scissors and shearing off the tips like bits of shrubbery, and for years every time I sensed something behind me, a pigeon or the gym teacher or rain, I assumed it was her. I covered my ears in my sleep, could never hear in my dreams. I had an aunt who swathed cellophane candy wrappers around the heads of flashlights and shined the beams onto my ceiling before I fell asleep, telling me it was the northern lights, and when I asked her what even caused the northern lights, she said it was the sky having bad breath. The sky spitting its stars like teeth. When night is the color of all my aunts letting down their hair, I remember I have another aunt who got all her teeth bashed in on a bus. She doesn’t remember the man who did it, just woke up at the end of the line with the bus driver slapping her awake, telling her she better learn some English, so she did. I had an aunt who said chewing orchid petals is the only sure form of birth control. I had another aunt who said dying is the only sure form of birth control. I had an aunt who wanted to name her daughter Dog because that’s what Americans love most of all, dogs, and how many movies are there about American dogs that must find their way home to their families? And how many of those dogs die, percentage-wise? And can’t a name give her the odds she’ll need? I had an aunt who saw me kiss a girl in the booth of a Burger King and said, I knew it. I knew you were supposed to be born a son. I had an aunt who pulled me out of my mother by a jellied ankle and said, Of course she’s born backward, everyone in this family is. I had an aunt whose baby died in its sleep so soundlessly, she didn’t believe in its death. She dressed it, rocked it, petted its head, not letting us take the body away, until one night we tricked her, replacing the baby with a Costco frozen baked potato. She mothered the potato instead, wrapped it in a blanket, pretended it was safe in the custody of her touch. I had an aunt who died in a drunk-driving accident, in a sober-driving accident, in a suicide, in a typhoon, in the middle of the day while blow-drying her hair, in the evening while opening a window, in the morning while hiking to the family grave, in an attempt to get away from her husband, in an attempt to get away from her father, in an attempt to leave the country, in an attempt to get into another one, in an attempt to get her nose done, in an attempt to love a son, in an attempt to outrun a river, in an attempt to reincarnate as rain. I had an aunt who cracked an egg on my forehead when I made fun of her accent. I had an aunt who did my hair before school every morning, marinating my braid in egg yolk and butter, saying I’d smell like an American. I had an aunt who wiped her ass with her birth certificate and another one who failed her immigration test because she named Colonel Sanders as a founding father. I had an aunt who made sausage out of wild squirrels she shot in her yard, and when I said those squirrels probably had diseases, she held me to the chair until I ate every link. I had an aunt who stood outside the bathroom and listened to me shit, saying she could divine the shape of my future based on how my shit fell: whether it sank right away, whether it floated like petals or sang in the water or became a fish. I had an aunt who never married and told me men are magpies: They want anything that shines. What shines: blood, a bruise like an eye patch, a lake, salt, a window, dew, sweat on a girl’s collarbone, my aunts pledging allegiance to the moon. I had an aunt who massaged my elbows when I cried and said the heart is a hinge, to live it must bend. I had an aunt who said I should carry a rock in my palm until it’s the same temperature as my body, and then I should talk to the rock as if she is inside it. She says we should all learn to listen through other skins. I had an aunt who said home is the temperature of an armpit. I had an aunt who never let me turn on the heat, because if we don’t pay for the sun’s light or warmth we shouldn’t pay for heat or electricity, so she tucked my hands under her armpits and pretended she was a hen and I was the egg, swaddled in wings, swimming inside a shell of light, waiting to break to birth to sing.
“[K-Ming Chang] rewrites the world as a place of radical transformation.’”—The New York Times Book Review

“[Her] ability, to take a common, decidedly earthbound, experience and transform it through her lens into a fantastical, otherworldly encounter shines. . . . Chang’s writing reflects her gift as a lifelong listener of oral storytelling . . . and her ability to synthesize new ideas with her own spin on language.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“Chang has a special talent for forging history into myth and myth into present-day fiction. . . . Gods of Want is in some ways a fantasy of queer freedom. Its main characters, all Taiwanese or Chinese by birth or descent, are allowed to be who they are, to love and make love to whomever they choose.”—Los Angeles Times

“[K-Ming Chang] is back with her signature precise and enthralling prose in this short-story collection.”—Shondaland

“K-Ming Chang’s inspired mix of magic and realism returns in full fabulist force. . . . The stories are eclectic . . . and united by Chang’s fascination with the queer and quotidian in her characters’ worlds. . . . Piercing.”—Esquire

“Her new short-story collection Gods of Want both widens and calcifies the expansiveness of her range. . . . Chang is singular amongst us all. . . . New work from Chang is a cause for celebration—a holiday in its own right—and it’s also a reminder of the infinite possibilities on the page. . . . Nothing short of marvelous.”—Bryan Washington, for Electric Literature

“A whole body experience.”—THEM

“These stories glitter and pulse . . . Full of mythic desire, joy and pain disguised as the other, and navigating the precarious balance of how to belong to a land while still belonging to oneself, Gods of Want is bursting with language and images so striking, so sure of their own strength, I found myself stunned. The worlds and characters depicted in these pages are original, strange, sometimes-horrific, and all the more gorgeous because of it.”—Dantiel W. Moniz, author of Milk Blood Heat

“In the genre of feminine madness, these stories are to be worshipped. They are fearless, hysterical, violent yet full of grace. Each sentence escalates toward devastating, poetic insight about our bodies, about cultural demands both treasured and feared, and about what makes being alive a terror and a joy.”—Venita Blackburn, author of How to Wrestle a Girl

“This book traces a line from old worlds to new worlds by means of the bloody umbilical cords that stretch between them. . . . These stories unthread the tangled relationships between mothers and daughter, aunts and cousins, siblings and lovers . . .  a lingering sense that language, as well as life, is infinitely adaptable, no matter the ground on which it is given to grow. Lurid, funny, strange, and deftly sorrowing—an important new voice.”Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Dazzling . . . This stellar collection will leave readers hungry for more.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)

About

Startling stories center the bodies, memories, myths, and relationships of Asian American women in “a voracious, probing collection, proof of how exhilarating the short story can be” (The New York Times Book Review, Editors’ Choice)—from the National Book Award “5 Under 35” honoree and author of Bestiary

“Wise, energetic, funny, and wild, Gods of Want displays a boundless imagination anchored by the weight of ancestors and history.”—Kali Fajardo-Anstine, author of Sabrina & Corina and Woman of Light


WINNER OF THE LAMBDA LITERARY AWARD • ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: The New York Times Book Review, NPR, Them, Book Riot

In “Auntland,” a steady stream of aunts adjust to American life by sneaking surreptitious kisses from women at temple, buying tubs of vanilla ice cream to prepare for citizenship tests, and hatching plans to name their daughters “Dog.” In “The Chorus of Dead Cousins,” ghost-cousins cross space, seas, and skies to haunt their live-cousin, wife to a storm chaser. In “Xífù,” a mother-in-law tortures a wife in increasingly unsuccessful attempts to rid the house of her. In “Mariela,” two girls explore one another’s bodies for the first time in the belly of a plastic shark, while in “Virginia Slims,” a woman from a cigarette ad comes to life. And in “Resident Aliens,” a former slaughterhouse serves as a residence to a series of widows, each harboring her own calamitous secrets. 

With each tale, K-Ming Chang gives us her own take on a surrealism that mixes myth and migration, corporeality and ghostliness, queerness and the quotidian. Stunningly told in her feminist fabulist style, these are uncanny stories peeling back greater questions of power and memory.

Author

© Trina Quach
K-Ming Chang is a Kundiman fellow, a Lambda Literary Award finalist, and a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 honoree. She is the author of the novel Bestiary, which was longlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, the PEN/Faulkner Award, and the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award. View titles by K-Ming Chang

Excerpt

Auntland

I had an aunt who went to the dentist and asked to get her tongue pulled. We only do teeth, the dentist said, but did it anyway. She took her tongue home in a jar and flushed it down the toilet and years later a fisherman in Half Moon Bay made the evening news, waving my aunt’s tongue like a flag at the end of his pole. The police are still looking for the body it belonged to. I had an aunt who worked at the Oriental Buffet and stole us a live crab, which my other aunt boiled alive, and when I tried to crack the legs with my teeth the way they did, one of my molars fractured into five and my other aunt, not that other aunt but this other other aunt, spent the rest of the night tweezing tooth-shrapnel out of my gums. I had an aunt who told me not to get braces because it would set off the metal detector at airports and trigger the German shepherds to run out and tackle me and the agents would confiscate my teeth and replace them with rubber bullets and interrogate my mouth with their tongues. I had an aunt who took me to Great America while my mother was at an immigration interview. This aunt refused to get on a roller coaster even though that’s what we paid for. When I told her to get on, she said, The only time I’ll get off the ground is if I’m on an airplane or become an angel. And I told her she’d never become an angel because I saw her kiss a woman that time we were at Costco buying four-ply toilet paper for my mother, who was in the throes of stress diarrhea, induced partially by her upcoming immigration interview and partially because I told her the officers would test if she was truly American by feeding her strawberry soft serve and timing her digestion. I said that’s why it’s called passing a test—because they catch what passes out of your body. If it’s liquid, they don’t let you into the country. So my mother went out and bought two half-gallons of Breyers vanilla to train her body to convert milk into bone and not brown silk. Anyway, my aunt locked me in the parked car, which I said was illegal in America—you can’t even lock dogs in the car—and she walked up to the woman who had been following us while we shopped, a woman I’d recognized from the temple where we prayed to save my grandfather’s polygamist soul, and kissed her. Kissed her so hard, my own lips shriveled like salted slugs. I had an aunt who gave me the lingerie catalog because there were coupons printed in it, though none of us would ever wear underwear with jewels or lace, because jewels and lace need to be worn on the outside so that everyone knows you can afford them. I cut the bottom halves off the women for no reason. At school we watched an Oprah interview where a white woman tells Oprah how she stopped her attacker: by peeing on him. I had an aunt who peed on me one time we shared a mattress. She’d been in the country five months and when I woke up she was trying to shroud the stain with a towel. She said she’d dreamed of being back on the island, peeing onto the roots of a camphor tree that didn’t grow unless it was given water directly from a body. I imagined I was that tree: I grew because my aunts were watering me. I had an aunt who cut my hair for years, until she got early-onset something, some disease named after a man, and then she went around cutting people’s earlobes on purpose, sneaking up behind them with her scissors and shearing off the tips like bits of shrubbery, and for years every time I sensed something behind me, a pigeon or the gym teacher or rain, I assumed it was her. I covered my ears in my sleep, could never hear in my dreams. I had an aunt who swathed cellophane candy wrappers around the heads of flashlights and shined the beams onto my ceiling before I fell asleep, telling me it was the northern lights, and when I asked her what even caused the northern lights, she said it was the sky having bad breath. The sky spitting its stars like teeth. When night is the color of all my aunts letting down their hair, I remember I have another aunt who got all her teeth bashed in on a bus. She doesn’t remember the man who did it, just woke up at the end of the line with the bus driver slapping her awake, telling her she better learn some English, so she did. I had an aunt who said chewing orchid petals is the only sure form of birth control. I had another aunt who said dying is the only sure form of birth control. I had an aunt who wanted to name her daughter Dog because that’s what Americans love most of all, dogs, and how many movies are there about American dogs that must find their way home to their families? And how many of those dogs die, percentage-wise? And can’t a name give her the odds she’ll need? I had an aunt who saw me kiss a girl in the booth of a Burger King and said, I knew it. I knew you were supposed to be born a son. I had an aunt who pulled me out of my mother by a jellied ankle and said, Of course she’s born backward, everyone in this family is. I had an aunt whose baby died in its sleep so soundlessly, she didn’t believe in its death. She dressed it, rocked it, petted its head, not letting us take the body away, until one night we tricked her, replacing the baby with a Costco frozen baked potato. She mothered the potato instead, wrapped it in a blanket, pretended it was safe in the custody of her touch. I had an aunt who died in a drunk-driving accident, in a sober-driving accident, in a suicide, in a typhoon, in the middle of the day while blow-drying her hair, in the evening while opening a window, in the morning while hiking to the family grave, in an attempt to get away from her husband, in an attempt to get away from her father, in an attempt to leave the country, in an attempt to get into another one, in an attempt to get her nose done, in an attempt to love a son, in an attempt to outrun a river, in an attempt to reincarnate as rain. I had an aunt who cracked an egg on my forehead when I made fun of her accent. I had an aunt who did my hair before school every morning, marinating my braid in egg yolk and butter, saying I’d smell like an American. I had an aunt who wiped her ass with her birth certificate and another one who failed her immigration test because she named Colonel Sanders as a founding father. I had an aunt who made sausage out of wild squirrels she shot in her yard, and when I said those squirrels probably had diseases, she held me to the chair until I ate every link. I had an aunt who stood outside the bathroom and listened to me shit, saying she could divine the shape of my future based on how my shit fell: whether it sank right away, whether it floated like petals or sang in the water or became a fish. I had an aunt who never married and told me men are magpies: They want anything that shines. What shines: blood, a bruise like an eye patch, a lake, salt, a window, dew, sweat on a girl’s collarbone, my aunts pledging allegiance to the moon. I had an aunt who massaged my elbows when I cried and said the heart is a hinge, to live it must bend. I had an aunt who said I should carry a rock in my palm until it’s the same temperature as my body, and then I should talk to the rock as if she is inside it. She says we should all learn to listen through other skins. I had an aunt who said home is the temperature of an armpit. I had an aunt who never let me turn on the heat, because if we don’t pay for the sun’s light or warmth we shouldn’t pay for heat or electricity, so she tucked my hands under her armpits and pretended she was a hen and I was the egg, swaddled in wings, swimming inside a shell of light, waiting to break to birth to sing.

Praise

“[K-Ming Chang] rewrites the world as a place of radical transformation.’”—The New York Times Book Review

“[Her] ability, to take a common, decidedly earthbound, experience and transform it through her lens into a fantastical, otherworldly encounter shines. . . . Chang’s writing reflects her gift as a lifelong listener of oral storytelling . . . and her ability to synthesize new ideas with her own spin on language.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“Chang has a special talent for forging history into myth and myth into present-day fiction. . . . Gods of Want is in some ways a fantasy of queer freedom. Its main characters, all Taiwanese or Chinese by birth or descent, are allowed to be who they are, to love and make love to whomever they choose.”—Los Angeles Times

“[K-Ming Chang] is back with her signature precise and enthralling prose in this short-story collection.”—Shondaland

“K-Ming Chang’s inspired mix of magic and realism returns in full fabulist force. . . . The stories are eclectic . . . and united by Chang’s fascination with the queer and quotidian in her characters’ worlds. . . . Piercing.”—Esquire

“Her new short-story collection Gods of Want both widens and calcifies the expansiveness of her range. . . . Chang is singular amongst us all. . . . New work from Chang is a cause for celebration—a holiday in its own right—and it’s also a reminder of the infinite possibilities on the page. . . . Nothing short of marvelous.”—Bryan Washington, for Electric Literature

“A whole body experience.”—THEM

“These stories glitter and pulse . . . Full of mythic desire, joy and pain disguised as the other, and navigating the precarious balance of how to belong to a land while still belonging to oneself, Gods of Want is bursting with language and images so striking, so sure of their own strength, I found myself stunned. The worlds and characters depicted in these pages are original, strange, sometimes-horrific, and all the more gorgeous because of it.”—Dantiel W. Moniz, author of Milk Blood Heat

“In the genre of feminine madness, these stories are to be worshipped. They are fearless, hysterical, violent yet full of grace. Each sentence escalates toward devastating, poetic insight about our bodies, about cultural demands both treasured and feared, and about what makes being alive a terror and a joy.”—Venita Blackburn, author of How to Wrestle a Girl

“This book traces a line from old worlds to new worlds by means of the bloody umbilical cords that stretch between them. . . . These stories unthread the tangled relationships between mothers and daughter, aunts and cousins, siblings and lovers . . .  a lingering sense that language, as well as life, is infinitely adaptable, no matter the ground on which it is given to grow. Lurid, funny, strange, and deftly sorrowing—an important new voice.”Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Dazzling . . . This stellar collection will leave readers hungry for more.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)

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