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Why We Chose It: "Bound" by Belinda Hermawan

A fortune-teller told me I had drowned myself in a previous life in Ancient China.”

Right away I was drawn in by this, the first line of Belinda Hermawan’s “Bound.” I wanted to know more about this story within the story, and I was pleased later by how it carries through the piece—the narrator’s fortune and the attached mythology play out like backstory to her experiences.

“There’s a story about two souls with bad timing.”

The story opens with the number 17, another point of curiosity, the next section 35. Curiouser and curiouser. Through the course of reading, the numbers come to make sense as markers, and they come together beautifully in the final scene. It’s tricky pulling off a nonlinear story with momentum, but every scene in this story seems exactly placed to deliver us to the ending.

“When Jack called during my lunch break at work, I let it go to voicemail.”

If you’d asked me a year ago if I’d accept a story about pre-destined love I would have smiled uncomfortably into a hard NO. But this narrator is equally skeptical, as is the woman from her previous life, who threw herself into a river to avoid an arranged marriage. The narrator’s skepticism makes for an interesting rhetorical choice, a sort of reliability by affinity.

“‘I want to go to Disneyland,’ he said. ‘I have a rental car. You drive.’”

The writer makes smart choices that bind the story, as in the narrator’s job, working alongside her mother as a travel agent, making people’s “vacation dreams a reality,” even planning a river cruise for a pair of honeymooners down the Yangtze.

“Four is an unlucky number in Chinese culture. Or so I’m told.”

And she asks important questions. What happens to a story in translation? To a child swept up by another country/language/culture? Abandoned because of China’s one-child policy and adopted by a white couple in San Francisco, the narrator needs a translator to understand her fortune, and she can tell the translator is leaving things out.

“Don’t you tell me what to do.”

This story is not so much about love as it is about choices, and it works both with and against the notion of destiny, a push and pull that feels like living.

— Katie Flynn, Fiction Editor

*****

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