First Fiction Fridays: Paper Teeth

Lauralyn Chow’s debut, an interconnected collection of short stories, follows the Lee family from the 1960s to the present day – a journey of intergenerational gatherings, laughter, and unbelievable food. In fact, each story’s title named after a Chinese food menu. Hungry to read this collection, yet?


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:Paper Teeth (NeWest Press, 2016)Who:Lauralyn Chow was born, raised, and educated in Edmonton, Alberta. Her first summer job was at a radio station and she later worked as the first in-house lawyer for the Calgary Board of Education. She currently resides in Calgary, Alberta. Paper Teeth is her first book.Why you need to read this now:Harvest season is upon us, meaning food, family, and hopefully a healthy dash-and-a-half of laughter. Lauralyn Chow’s debut book, Paper Teeth, is an interconnected short story collection that primarily takes place in Edmonton and Calgary and looks at the Lee Family and their friends’ lives from the 1960s to today. The book is fun, and like a movie where you can tell that the actors are having a great time, you can feel this fun dripping from the pages like sauce off of a juicy piece of whitefish. And yes, each story is given a title from a Chinese restaurant menu, some amusingly playful in their construction: “Peeking” Duck, anyone?Like food, language can nourish. The Lee children are never taught Chinese, but the community around them does not necessarily know that. The kids get an ear for what they might be missing and have the freedom to fill in the gaps in ways that lead to confusion, wordplay, and antics.Like sitting around a dinner table on Thanksgiving with all your relatives, and all their different reactions and opinions, one excellent element in Lauralyn Chow’s collection is that the Lee children (Lizzie, Pen, Tom, and Jane) are well differentiated from each other, which creates a fuller and more realistic (and funnier) world.Another element that acts as an amuse-bouche is the asides that fill the story with an insider/outsider perspective: adding details but acting wittily distant to the goings on. Just as a food critic might have sympathy for a kitchen run amok, but who must report the situation to rapt readers, these asides add to the comedy and give the reader another way to step into this well crafted and tasty world.Finally, any book that has a story about someone attempting to build a koi pond under a Plexiglas kitchen floor is not your standard CanLit fare.X plus Y:Paper Teeth stands at the intersection of Fred Wah’s Diamond Grill and David Sedaris’s Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, but without having the pressure to dodge the metaphorical cars of being a completely to semi-true story.
* * *Thanks so much to NeWest Press, especially Claire, for telling us all about Paper Teeth. If you want to like authors before they were cool, check out our other First Fiction Friday picks.