-This post is written by Reid Mitchell.
I cannot speak for other editors, but one of the aspects of Tai Dong Huai’s “New Baby” that drew me to the story was that its narrator had just the right amount of resentment. Not too much; not too little. Just right.
At age thirteen, the narrator is ripe for petulance. And she has been put into a situation that demands it. Her adoptive mother’s friend has presented her with a baby she has bought from China. The narrator resents what she perceives as the assumption that she, who was also adopted from China, will automatically bond with an eleven-month old child who strikes her as a brat.
A second strength of the story, one that lends itself to the very short form Tai employs, is its grotesque but realistic central image: Going Home Barbie. When reading the story, I had no idea if there really was such a doll, which the narrator describes as ‘white, blond and dressed for what looks like divorcees-night-out at the Holiday Inn Lounge, and her small baby who appears more Aztec than Chinese.’ There was such a doll which was, as the story says, given to children and their new families at Guangzhou’s White Swan Hotel, the customary place for couples waiting to adopt. They are not available for purchase but can be found on Ebay.
Tai’s description is devastating. ‘She’s huge, this Barbie, actually dwarfing the cardboard house and picket fence that attempt to confine her. And she’s too young — twenty, at most. Rather than an adoptive mom returning with a baby from China, she resembles a steroid-soaked Swedish nanny who’s making off with a small, Mayan child.’
Then the story makes a turn. The narrator contrasts this packaged adoptive mother-and-child with what she knows of her own adoption, and, if not exactly sympathetic to the brat, she at least identifies with some of the problems she knows she will face, as she herself has lived through them. After she has worked up as much empathy as a thirteen-year-old permits herself, however, the story makes its last turn: the narrator imagines the Barbie rejecting the baby, the baby rejecting the mother. She renames the pair, ‘Going Home, Barbie?’
Even if we acknowledge the pain it conceals, it might seem merely a flip joke. But Tai deftly has used a few paragraphs to sketch out what might be a much longer story of a girl born in China growing up in the United States with a white mother. The central image allows our teenage narrator to discuss her own life at one remove. We can locate the source of her wisecracking stance and what underlies it.
Transferring the difficulties in her own past to Barbie and baby, the narrator implicitly acknowledges the perseverance of the woman who adopted her.
Giving an author credence simply because she has credentials would be an editorial mistake. We selected Tai’s story before we knew she too was adopted from China by white Americans. But we were hardly surprised to find that out or that she has continued to write brief fiction examining the life of a young American woman who was born in China. (See, for example, her story “Frogs“.)
Nor are we surprised that occasionally, in her stories and in interviews, Tai Dong Huai shows just the right amount of resentment, a resigned, ironic resentment.
Tai Dong Huai was born in Taizhou, China and adopted by an American couple who had no idea what they were getting into. Her fiction has appeared (or is upcoming) in Smokelong Quarterly, Hobart, Thieves Jargon, elimae, Underground Voices, Wigleaf, 55 Words, Cause & Effect, and others. “New Baby” is from her collection in progress, I Come From Where I’ve Never Been. Tai lives in Connecticut, consciously close to Yale University, with her pug “Sparkle.”