K-Ming Chang's taut novella "Cecilia" explores the intensity of desire by slinking along the razor-thin line between love and obsession, between the desire to cuddle someone or consume them.

Life for 24-year-old Seven appears relatively staid. She lives with her mother and grandmother, in the same apartment that the women have rented since before she was born, and works for a chiropractor, cleaning the office and prepping rooms between adjustments. Then she finds Cecilia in one of the exam rooms.

The two childhood friends haven't seen each other for 10 years, but Seven leaves abruptly without uttering a word. When she gets off of work the next day, Cecilia is waiting for her at the bus stop. As the two ride toward a transformative conclusion at the literal end of the line, Seven teases out the course of their past relationship, the reasons it ended and how she has tried to evolve ever since.

While plenty of art has been devoted to the pressures of adolescent friendships and the difficulties of growing up in general, "Cecilia" is refreshing in many ways, starting with its exploration of queer desire, which, while not as much of a unicorn as it once was, is still woefully underrepresented.

Chang also eschews tired motivators like popularity and academic achievement in favor of more psychological uncertainties — Is this really what I want? How badly do I want it? How will I (over)react if I don't get it? And "Cecilia" obliquely questions consent by juxtaposing predators and prey and considering the individuation of memory.

The relationship between Seven and Cecilia, who is nine months older, was never balanced, neither in what they wanted from each other nor in what they got out of it. According to Seven, whose perspective is the only one presented, Cecilia "demanded an entire world, while I could be sustained solely by the sight of her." The older girl floated dubious facts of life, like "all girls are born with a baby in each limb," and exploited her alpha status, with Seven almost boasting that "Her disgust was enough to feed me forever."

The novel's focus never wavers under the urgent verve of Chang's prose. Her sentences are packed with internal rhyme and assonance, her metaphors drawn on corporeal imagery, like a soap dispenser that "dribble[s] like a nosebleed," the open back of a paper examination gown that beckons like "a flickering eyelid," and Seven's dreams that are "blistered with fish I fried in pans of my sweat." Even the city's wintertime crow infestation ultimately illuminates the same target: Cecilia herself.

References to the ancestral pasts of Seven and Cecilia not only flesh out the unspecified suburban immigrant community where the girls grew up, but help set the slightly paranormal atmosphere that grows throughout the novel, with Cecilia's Taiwanese grandfather once "vomit[ing] sardines for a month straight," and Seven's shipping his liver to her wrapped "in six pages of newspaper."

Tonally and thematically, Chang is incredibly dialed in to the moment, and "Cecilia" feels ripe for development by A24 or some other indie-focused production house. Snap it up so you can be a smug book reader when the inevitable film or limited series eventually comes along!

Cory Oldweiler is a freelance writer.


By: K-Ming Chang.

Publisher: Coffee House Press, 127 pages, $14.95.