Tales from the Inner City has sat on my bedside table for a long time. Unlike the other books piled beneath it, I keep going back to its pages. I have read every page, but it still does not get shelved. It stays, ready for me to reach for it once again.
There is the legendary moonfish swimming in the sky, felled by a group of siblings. The white owl standing watch in the hospital room. The funeral for all the lost cats. And my favorite – it’s so perfect to reread before my wedding – the centuries old tree, tended on the rooftop by a devoted couple, that finally comes to bloom.
I want to describe them for you but fear the magic would be lost in the retelling. You really just have to read these wondrous stories yourself – preferably aloud.
For all the improbable that unfolds in these short stories, truths glint.
“Even then we suspected our luck to be spent, that we’d never get a chance like this again, ever…: that thought like a strange and anxious sorrow. It’s funny how moments of joy can be so tainted.”
For that which causes us to tremble with awe, Tan writes, “every time I reach out to it in fear, I reach out in gladness…”
A separate book, Cicada, also helps us recognize truth through allegory. As with Tales from the Inner City, Tan uses a fantastical frame – a cicada who works in an office – to focus on our own human shortcomings and longings. Again, I am tempted to reveal more of the story. I just tried and deleted what I wrote because to do so would spoil it. Tan’s stories really deserve to be savored by one’s own tongue.