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

One afternoon she was drying on the rock, and she felt a thread of sunlight inside her chest. She had never believed in the existence of a soul except in abstract terms, yet she felt this, and she knew it was her soul. She wasn’t planning to do anything with it; she just liked knowing it was there. When she told me this story, I immediately began to picture myself with her, so I never used to like it when she told it to anyone else. Later, I realized no one else understands what the story’s about. Everyone seems to think it’s about religion, but what it really means is that she knows how to be alone.

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