For all of its pathos, its themes of cross-cultural intermingling, its stories of immigrant arrival, marginalization and eventual accommodation, The Unpassing is a singularly vast and captivating novel, beautifully written in free-flowing prose that quietly disarms with its intermittent moments of poetic idiosyncrasy. But what makes Lin’s novel such an important book is the extent to which it probes America’s mythmaking about itself, which can just as easily unmake as it can uplift ... If the United States is merely an idea that it forms of itself, then let the nostalgic among us be warned: We may be longing to return to a time that no longer exists—or perhaps never did.
The novel is full of parallel moments ... The looming possibility—and eventual reality—of teetering over the edge is increased with the lawsuit against Gavin’s father, creating a sense of slow dread that permeates the book ... Lin’s attention to detail is startling, and though she keeps close to Gavin’s childhood experience, she also allows us to read between the lines and intuit the depth of the family’s grief ... Anyone who has ever grieved—be it the loss of a person, home, country or security—will feel a sense of recognition. The Unpassing is a remarkable, unflinching debut.
The trope of the absent child often casts a grim shadow over our literary landscape but rarely with the acute psychological insights of Chia-Chia Lin’s poised debut ... Lin conjures these quotidian lives in a shimmering prose ... If you’re expecting a quirky Alaskan story along the lines of the old television series Northern Exposure, think again: Lin guides us subtly but relentlessly into a wilderness of anguish ... But the bleakness here is redeemed by Lin’s honesty and honed craft, her masterful evocation of the Last Frontier ... And Lin’s characters are fully realized ... The Unpassing is the work of a mature artist, an eloquent, unsparing testament to the vicissitudes of our lives, how love can plunge us into the brutal cold of a long Arctic night.
A deep melancholy persists in the grim, breathtakingly beautiful debut novel by Chia-Chia Lin ... riveting ... Lin excels when she gets small, with finely observed renderings of the family’s surroundings ... The way this chilling, captivating book concludes will delight as much as it challenges, offering as it does a blend of escape, tragedy, triumph, loss and what we’ve expected all along.
[A] haunting debut novel ... It nearly goes without saying that The Unpassing is certainly a difficult read—one that will undoubtedly be too soaked in the tears of hopelessness for some readers. However, the amount of heaviness shouldn’t be a deterrent in undertaking the subtle world of wonder to be uncovered inside Lin’s affecting novel ... The Unpassing gives an affecting focus on showing its readers how children understand and process loneliness ... The Unpassing is heartbreaking and painful but so is life in those moments when we suffer. Lin’s novel knows this more than most.
The heartrending story of life between worlds, Chia-Chia Lin’s The Unpassing is an arresting portrait of an immigrant family’s pivotal moment of crisis ... Lin’s spare, lyrical prose sets an elemental stage, a place indifferent to human suffering, cycling through life and death on a larger scale ... Most striking about this debut novel is Lin’s precise handling of loaded family dynamics ... The Unpassing is a powerful debut from an author to watch.
There’s a hothouse isolation pervading Chia-Chia Lin’s debut novel that’s evocative of Jeffrey Eugenides’ much-lauded 1993 debut, The Virgin Suicides ... What The Unpassing does is so brutal yet intensely immersive that questioning Lin’s choices feels like asking for a novel far less authentic ... The Unpassing is far more bleak than The Virgin Suicides ... It’s brutal, but marvelous. The prose is so sparse that it feels designed to describe Alaska, and Alaska alone ... It’s an arresting approach. Lin does not dwell; she lingers—her lingering a sort of haunting.
[A] stunning debut ... With powerful and poetic prose, Lin captures the uncertainty and insight of childhood ... Lin’s majestic writing immerses the reader in the bodily experience of her characters, who writhe, paw, dig, salivate, and draw readers into their world.
Lin’s use of a limited first-person is a canny device, allowing her to withhold the entirety of the family’s history, which she metes out slowly in intervals ... The result is a quietly dramatic novel that captures the confusion of childhood and the hazy quality of memory while depicting a family struggling to build a home in a harsh place ... At times, The Unpassing can feel unbearable to read. The starkness of human feelings on display, set against the otherworldly landscape of Alaska, with its endless summers and sunless winters, feels almost too raw and exposed ... The tempo at which Lin renders the doings of the family and the obstacles they face is slow but inexorable. The novel is emotionally bare, but it’s an austere, quiet kind of exposure ... The novel’s triumph is in Lin’s depiction of the relationship between parents and children and their shifting responsibilities to one another, developing over time. Its narrative also poses a difficult and poignant set of questions: How, in a family, can we love those who have wronged us? What secrets lie buried in our closest kin and why? Lin’s novel doesn’t offer any conclusive answer, because she is interested in something between knowing and not knowing. Narrating from that gap, she gives us a haunting story all its own.
Death and suffering, poverty and guilt suffuse – to the point of drowning—this unhappy first novel. Every departure from the main narrative thread—whether it’s the Challenger disaster or the Exxon Valdez oil spill—adds another overwhelming layer of mortality and horror to the story. But one crowning loss binds the tale, the death of a child and the suffocating layers of blame and responsibility that lay waste to the surviving family members ... Lin is undoubtedly a talented writer whose invocation of this group—their individual psychologies and combined tragedy— is achieved with numbing impact. Yet the book is impossibly burdened by its surfeit of bleakness and fixed tone. Fingers crossed that her second will offer more in the way of light and shade.
[A] challenging debut ... The unrelenting bleakness of the novel might be too much for some readers, but Lin’s talent for vivid, laser-sharp prose—especially when describing Alaska’s stark beauty or the family’s eccentric temperament—is undeniable.
The novel is full of harsh beauty, both in its prose and its attentive depictions of an ever shifting Alaskan environment, all frigid air and Sitka spruces and vast, treacherous mudflats ... The book's main mood is one of intense suffocation ... Unremittingly bleak.