Lauralyn Chow's debut, Paper Teeth, follows the lives of the Lees, a Canadian-Chinese family and their friends who reside in Edmonton, Alberta. While playing with time and place, from Edmonton in the 1960s and 70s up to present-day Calgary, Lauralyn Chow creates a world of walking dolls, family car trips, fashion and frosty makeup, home renovations inspired by pop culture, and moving up to big, new houses. The interconnected stories found in Paper Teeth are fun, funny, and heart-warming journeys about the pursuit of identity and the crafting of home.
With domestic tomfoolery and through deft observation and prismatic-voiced humour--including ironic asides--Lauralyn Chow reveals how family nourishes hope.
Chrome paper napkin dispensers, mini-juke boxes at each Formica tabletop booth, a tall paper calendar on the wall at the back featuring a Chinese ink drawing of a pink orchid in a square plant pot, an illuminated analogue wall clock with rectangular flip-down advertising, a small plastic cog flip¬ping the plastic pages of the ads down every fifteen seconds, (Silverwood's Dairy, Player's Navy Cut Cigarettes - Filter, Texaco Motor Oils, Allstate Insurance), a jade plant, round white tea pots filled with leaves and boiling water.
Round banquet tables, covered with white cotton tablecloths, in turn covered by large round Lazy Susans, enormous rect¬angular fish tanks (lyretail mollies, angel fish, neon tetras, bronze catfish, orange swordtails, bleeding heart tetras, kissing gouramis) with aerators disguised as plastic deep sea divers, illuminated cigarette vending machines with chrome-plated pull knobs, behind the host's desk, a large glass mirror etched with sprays of leaves and flowers.
Small red-and-gold altars, incense spiraling smoke, golden statues, tiny vertical banners of Chinese calligraphy, oranges.
A multi-page English language menu (sometimes bilingual with Chinese writing), plastic laminated, offering forty-seven, eighty-eight, one hundred and twenty-nine, different Chinese dishes, all listed by number. Sometimes, one printed page in the menu for Western cuisine. At the back of the menu, a short list of beverages. No pots of Chinese tea or bowls of steamed rice; these come to the table under their own steam.
A Chinese language menu (never bilingual), written on pink paper, sometimes in a plastic pocket inside the English menu, sometimes in a plastic page protector given only to certain guests, listing at most seven dishes.
An unwritten menu of non-replicable Chinese dishes, food that no other table is served, after Dad goes into the kitchen, only with his son, to visit with his friends, the cooks.
Of course, you are bilingual, English and French (un petit peu). No Chinese, though. In Chinese restaurants, you only eat unscripted, Chinese food from the unwritten menu for the first half of your life. The calendar flips. On your family tree, you get closer and closer to the ground. On your family tree, no one eats from the unwritten menu anymore.
Illiteracy makes you hungry.
Praise for Paper Teeth:
"Paper Teeth is an amazing swirl through imagination's complicity with memory, both palpable and disappearing. The stories, some of them mini-novellas, are striking in how Lauralyn Chow improvises and juxtaposes the threads of quotidian particularities sewn into the folds of growing up. This is a hungry book and the hunger comes from deep need: love."
~ Fred Wah, author of Diamond Grill
"Lauralyn Chow's Paper Teeth is much more than a tasty dish of stories: it is a feast for the senses, a carnival of delicious detail. The stories here clench at memory's slippery taste, the intense dynamics of a family balanced on the hyphen between expectation and hope, laughter and pride and forgiveness. These unforgettable characters will utterly entrance readers with their cat's cradle of connection and adaptation, solitude and belonging."
~ Aritha van Herk, author of Restlessness
"The Lees feel like a real family, because the way the story is told is probably the way the story of your own family is told: in memory and anecdote, in stories shouted across a big table laden with many dishes, and in whispered asides from the person sitting next to you. Whether you sample one or take in all ten courses, Paper Teeth is sure to satisfy."
~ Laura Frey, Vue Weekly
"[The stories] are a part of a whole, a narrative that is more than the sum of its parts in many ways."
~ Keith Cadieux, The Winnipeg Review
"With unique humour and style, Paper Teeth introduces us to a fresh voice in Canadian short fiction."
~ Alissa McArthur, Room
"Sweet tempered and humorous, these are stories of home and hearth."
~ Sarah Murdoch, The Toronto Star
"The book is a lively jumble, much like the city it is based on."
~ Stephanie L. Lu, Canadian Literature