Singlit Spotlight: 'This Is Where I Won't Be Alone' Explores Home And Belonging
Where is home? The title of Inez Tan’s debut story collection, This Is Where I Won’t Be Alone, might recall Singapore’s famed National Day song, but to its characters – which include a lovelorn undergraduate on his way to a date, a dried oyster rotting in a Fairprice bag, and a teacher living in the late 2030s – “home” is less a physical location than it is an emotional one.
As an author based in Singapore and Southern California, Tan’s perspective as both an insider and an outsider lends her work an air of longing and displacement, as if ‘home’ is something we all aspire to, but can never fully claim. Home might be where the heart is, but what happens when your heart breaks? What happens when it wanders? What happens when you move somewhere and leave it behind?
Tan’s narrators and settings are as varied as the answers to any of these questions. The collection begins with “Edison and Curie”, which follows the Chan twins – celebrated boy genius Edison, and his sister, Curie, forever branded as Edison’s less accomplished sibling, as they wrestle with their studies. It’s a familiar setup, dark and at some points cartoonish, like a version of “Dexter’s Laboratory” steeped in Singaporean meritocracy. The outcome seems inevitable, yet Tan infuses their rivalry with surprising tenderness.
The second story asks similar questions about purpose, despite being told from an oyster’s point of view, while subsequent stories take place in locations as familiar as an ant-infested kitchen, to as far-flung as the moon. You’ll visit the old Singapore Science Centre in Jurong, where childhood friends clumsily reconnect, and you’ll travel back to an era where villagers sacrificed princesses to dragons. And therein lies the joy of reading this collection: you never quite know where each story will take you. Home can be anywhere or nowhere. It can be in places that are real, that are imaginary, that are long gone, or that have yet to be.
First published in September 2018, This Is Where I Won't Be Alone is worth visiting and revisiting ahead of National Day, and perhaps even more so now that 'home' is entrenched in a new normal.
This Is Where I Won’t Be Alone is in paperback or as an e-book on Epigram
Listen to the audiobook on Storytel