“Elmhurst”
by Han Ong
from the July 25, 2022 issue of The New Yorker

I‘m glad to see another story by Han Ong in The New Yorker. He’s had one in there now in each of the last four calendar years, and I think he’s deserving of the attention. For those who don’t know, for much of his writing career, Ong wrote plays, and has done so for several decades. It was only recently that his fiction started to appear in The New Yorker.

Often his experience as a playwright comes out, either in the way he sets the scene or in the dialogue, and I think it’s works well in the short fiction.

Here is how “Elmhurst” begins:

Is the boy in the window attempting telepathy with Shara? If not, why won’t he look away? His head is three floors up, a postcard. But he’s found the sun. Solo, while the other windows on all sides of him feature multiple scowlers, some holding out their cell phones to record.

As above, so below: Shara, on the sidewalk, stands amid scowlers, too. Ranters and chanters. Giving everything they have to this mass protest. On one side of her is her mother, and on the other her seven-year-old sister, Rosie.

Shara and her sister are their mother’s hostages. At least her sister is too young to be entrusted with a placard. There is no such exemption for Shara. The sign her mother carries is in Mandarin. She doesn’t understand or care that carrying those foreign characters is worse than being housed in the repurposed hotel they are gathered in front of. It marks her as even more alien and fugitive than those whose presence here she and her friends and, by extension, Shara, are protesting this afternoon in Elmhurst, where Shara lives a dozen blocks away with her mother, her father, her sister, and her grandfather.

That doesn’t say much, but it does establish the scene. I can almost feel myself in the audience, wondering what these characters are up to as they start to move about the set.

Please feel free to leave any thoughts you might have below!

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