Things to Make and Break

May-Lan Tan

Old relationships, past selves, hopes for the future — two people are never alone in a love story.  In ten short fictions, May-Lan Tan unspools worlds within worlds, the possibilities we seek out again and again, and the seemingly endless churn through self-invention and self-annhilation that is our search for connection.  Sleeping with your sister’s husband’s brother, betraying bandmates, building an imaginary friendship with your boyfriend’s ex — Tan makes visible how all our visions are really mirrors and reflections that keep us from seeing our way forward.


“There’s plenty of darkness and a sprinkling of magic, and these strange, flinty, cigarette-stained narratives speed by, offering lots of surface tension and compelling deeper passions.” — Jane Smart, The Guardian

“With this provocative debut, Tan proves herself a sharp chronicler of contemporary romance. […] Tan has a powerful ability to push the characters’ relationships to their emotional limits, and she is never better than when those limits break.” — Publishers Weekly

“Themes of twinning and doubles abound in each of the stories, and there’s a violence to many of the narratives that can feel viscerally brutalizing. But who doesn’t want art to hurt them a little? This book is for someone who seeks out excitement, even while they’re aware of the pain that comes along with it.” — Kristin Iversen, NYLON

“Enjoyed the short fiction of Carmen Maria Machado and Miranda July—writers who engage with the oddness of being a person who craves the tension, otherness, and oddness of other people? Then the unexpected, highly examined collisions in Tan’s stories will hit your sweet spot.” — Estelle Tang, ELLE


About the Author

May-Lan Tan


May-Lan Tan studied fine art at Goldsmiths and works as a ghostwriter. Her stories have appeared in Zoetrope: All Story, the Atlas Review, the Reader, and Arete. She lives in Berlin.

Photo credit: Bettina Volke

"The sheets in the photographs match the sheets on the bed. The body looks good. The face isn't much. I smile. I'm one of them now, a blade in the guts of some future girl."

From Things to Make and Break, by May-Lan Tan