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Giller Prize Special 2022: The Chat with Kim Fu


We kick off our 2022 Scotiabank Giller Prize special in conversation with Kim Fu. Her short story collection, Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century (Coach House), is a 2022 finalist.


The 2022 Giller Prize Jury says of the collection:

"An endlessly surprising story collection without a single flawed entry in the bunch, Kim Fu’s Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century is brilliantly textured. Moving from an argument with the operator of a VR machine to an insomniac’s encounter with a veritable sandman to a couple who can die and resurrect themselves at will, Fu’s worlds are fantastical and enterprising in their own right. But these set-ups stealthily reveal themselves to be structures for unspeakably moving revelations about the most real of human experiences—grief, anger, mistrust, sex, nostalgia, sacrifice. A deeply emotional collection that delights, dares, and dazzles."

Kim Fu is the author of two novels and a collection of poetry. Her first novel, For Today I Am a Boy, won the Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction and was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award, as well as a New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice. Her second novel, The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore, was a finalist for the Washington State Book Award and the OLA Evergreen Award. Fu’s writing has appeared in Granta, The Atlantic, the New York Times, Hazlitt, and the TLS. She lives in Seattle.


What advice would you give your ten-year-old self about the future?

Be kind, journal extensively, consume as much art as possible, aspire to live an interesting life, stay off Twitter, few video games are worth 300 hours of your life, tell Dad you love him.

In an alternate version of the world—one in which you are not a writer—what career would you choose?

Line cook, therapist, or accountant. I cook, I listen, I make spreadsheets.

If you could take a road trip with any author, living or dead, who would it be and where would you go?

The late essayist and humourist David Rakoff, a fellow Canadian-American. We would drive from Toronto (where he grew up) to and through New York City (where he spent most of his career). It’s not that a long of a drive, I realize, but he would have an absurd, uproarious, devastating anecdote or observation for every stretch of road.

What’s the last Canadian book that changed you in some way?

The honest answer is We Measure the Earth with Our Bodies by Tsering Yangzom Lama, but that feels like cheating. I remember feeling really changed by the anthology Whatever Gets You Through: Twelve Survivors on Life after Sexual Assault, edited by Stacey May Fowles and Jen Sookfong Lee.

Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century is one of two short fiction collections on this year’s Giller shortlist. What do you love about writing short fiction that writing novels won’t allow?

The wonder of short stories is that they’re short. As a reader, you can enter and exit a fully realized world, live through a character’s lifetime, in the space of a lunch hour. You can read a story from beginning to end on the bus to work and have it stay with you forever. I love the challenge of that smaller canvas. Leaving so much off the page. Finding just the right sliver, the tiny window that implies a universe.


Excerpt from Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century


After I killed my wife, I had twenty hours before her new body finished printing downstairs. I thought about how to spend the time. I could clean the house, as a show of contrition, and when she returned to find me sitting at the shining kitchen island, knick-knacks in place on dusted shelves, a pot of soup on the stove, we might not even need to discuss it. I could buy flowers. I could watch the printing, which still fascinated me, the weaving and webbing of each layer of tissue, the cross-sectional view of her internal workings like the ringed sections of a tree trunk.

I had poisoned her, a great wallop of poison in her morning coffee. So I didn’t have the defence of passion, a momentary loss of reason. Poison took forethought. Poison said: I wanted to be apart from you for a while. Then why not just leave the house? Why not go for a walk? No, it said more than that. Poison said: I wanted you to not exist for a while. I wanted to move through the world without you in it.

There’d been no choking, gasping, flailing, spewing. Connie simply keeled over at the table. The soft thunk of her weighty head, the clatter of her empty cup tipping off the saucer, spilling its dregs. Painless, I hoped, though I would have to take her word for it later, either way. A large dose for a small woman – when she’s been driving our car, I’ll find the seat raised and pushed as far forward as it goes, so she can reach the pedals and see over the steering wheel. I wrapped her briskly in a sheet, put her out on the porch, and filled out the online form for same-day pickup.

Connie has killed me only once. We’d spent a week car camping in a state park, four hours away, in that last week of the season where the frozen ground sucks heat out through the layers of your tent floor, sleeping pad, and sleeping bag, keeping most people away. She’d done most of the packing, loading the hatchback so full I couldn’t see out the back window as I drove. And then one morning, as we packed our day bags for a twenty-mile loop, she informed me she’d borrowed our neighbour Jim’s rifle. She’d told him she was afraid of bears. We called Jim an old coot in private, with affection. She slung the rifle over her back and wore it as we set off down the path. I was glad, in a way. I’d been curious about the experience, but whenever I tried to do it myself, I chickened out at the last minute.

She walked in front wherever the path narrowed, leaving me to stare at the long wooden barrel cutting diagonally across her upper back, below her short ponytail. She eventually led me off path, into the woods, and there was something vaguely erotic about it, a tugging. The memory of being a teenager, a girl pulling me by the hand from a bush party, away from the bonfire and into the sultry dark, to become invisible bodies among the trees.

And oh, how Connie looked when she turned to face me, as she shouldered the rifle. How she did not hesitate. Her mouth upturned, her eyes – not hard, just clear, certain, confident. Her cheeks flushed from the cold and the exertion of the hike.

One shot, extremely close range, to the face. I had the sensation of being blown backward. I would later conflate the memory with a chewing gum commercial I’d seen as a kid, where a man gets blown out of his shoes by flavour, rocketed out of frame, his empty brown loafers left behind. I was shot out the back of myself like a cannon. Her beloved face, explosive noise, nothingness. I thought, later, that if she’d shot me through the heart or the lungs, or even if she’d beheaded me with an axe, there would have been an in-between, a liminal moment where my eyes were still connected to my brain, still sending signals. Time to look at my ruined body, to see her reaction, see us both splattered with gore. My death felt clean to me, precise, surgical, even though I knew, in reality, it had to have been anything but. Like she knew the pinprick-sized location – above the stem of my spine, behind the Cupid’s bow of my upper lip, in the centre of my brain – where my soul resided, and took it out with a perfect bull’s-eye shot. That’s who she was.

When I woke up on the printer tray at home, I felt no more disoriented than I did in a hotel bed, that moment of dislocation. I padded naked through the house to the master bathroom, showered, dried, dressed. The dark, silent house was what unnerved me. I knew it took twenty hours to reprint me from checkpoint. Had she come home and left on some errand? Had she never come home?

She told me, later, that she made it back to our campsite without encountering anyone, wiped herself down as best she could, changed into fresh clothes. She packed up and drove our car to a motel at the next exit. It was alpine-lodge themed, painted wood with whimsical cutouts and spade-topped fencing that might once have been charming but now had that eerie blend of the childish and the decaying. As she requested a room, she noticed a small streak of blood on her neck in the mirror behind the front desk.

That evening, her hair still dripping wet from the shower, she went down to the attached bar. The place was packed, the tight spaces between tables made tighter by bulky winter coats slung over chairbacks and muddy slush dragged in on boots. She took a seat at the bar that wasn’t really a seat, a barstool wedged in a corner made by the path to the kitchen. Hockey blared on the TV. The bartender threw down a coaster in front of my wife and tilted her head without speaking. My wife got a rye and Coke, not usually her drink. They served food, and she hadn’t eaten since before the long hike, so she ordered the meatloaf. (You hate meatloaf, I said, as she recounted the story. She shrugged. It had been so long since she’d had meatloaf, she explained, she couldn’t remember if she actually disliked it or if that was just something she said.)

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