The Washington Post

YZ Chin’s “Edge Case” begins with a husband’s disappeara­nce — but leads to self-discovery.

- BY JUNG YUN bookworld@washpost.com Jung Yun, an assistant professor of English at George Washington University, is the author of the novels “Shelter” and “O Beautiful,” which will be published in November.

Edwina and Marlin, the couple at the center of YZ Chin’s novel “Edge Case,” have been working in the tech industry in New York for several years, but their H-1B visas for “foreign workers in special occupation­s” are about to expire. Unless they can convince their employers to sponsor their green card applicatio­ns, they’ll either have to return to Malaysia or risk becoming undocument­ed in America during the Trump administra­tion’s crackdown on undocument­ed immigrants. Despite this existentia­l time bomb ticking away in the background, the couple appears happily married until the day Marlin packs a suitcase and moves out without any explanatio­n.

From there, Chin’s novel becomes a kind of suspense tale as Edwina struggles to make sense of her husband’s disappeara­nce — and find him. But “Edge Case” delves deeper than your typical missing-person mystery. It’s also a book about a woman trying to understand who she is on her own and where she belongs in the world.

In an extended direct address to an unnamed “you,” Edwina’s happy memories of her life with Marlin give way and the cracks in her marriage become more apparent. Edwina, a frequently unreliable narrator, acknowledg­es that Marlin’s personalit­y did change over time, but the “shift was so gradual, there seemed to be no medical or spiritual cause for concern.” However, she eventually reveals that several significan­t events occurred during the six-month period before he left, including the death of Marlin’s father in Malaysia and Marlin’s growing interest in mystical activities.

Edwina understand­s that “when someone doesn’t love you anymore, you’re supposed to walk away graciously. . . . To do otherwise would be creepy, stalkerish.” But as the days stretch into weeks, Marlin’s decision still strikes her as completely illogical, so much so that she considers a wide range of possible explanatio­ns for his behavior, including mental illness, a head injury and even black magic. Although she does engage in some “creepy, stalkerish” behavior to learn more about his whereabout­s, such as trying to get access to his workplace and questionin­g his friends and relatives, these detective-like activities are not the novel’s most compelling source of drama.

Where “Edge Case” shines brightest is its depiction of characters who live in a liminal state, never certain where home will be or where they truly belong. As in her 2018 story collection, “Though I Get Home” (inspired by Emily Dickinson’s poem), Chin is interested in the idea of home as both a cherished place and a complicate­d destinatio­n.

At one point, Edwina wonders: “By next year, what shade would I stand under, what clothes would I wear, what food would I eat? What language would I be speaking?” This fraught existence extends to her options for locating Marlin, whom she can’t report as a missing person for fear of attracting the attention of Immigratio­n and Customs Enforcemen­t. And despite disliking her work and most of her all-male colleagues, she’s forced to go to the office while her husband is missing, because getting fired will void her visa and destroy any chance of obtaining a green card. Even the things that many U.S. citizens take for granted, such as posting critical comments about their government on social media or seeking therapy to maintain or improve their mental health, can potentiall­y be used against visa workers who have to be “good” in so many ways if they wish to stay in the country permanentl­y.

Further complicati­ng this tenuous state of existence is the fact that Edwina and Marlin are from Malaysia, where Muslims represent the majority. Neither character is Muslim, but upon returning to the United States after Marlin’s father’s funeral, they still receive extra scrutiny at the airport during the height of the Muslim travel ban. The experience of being interrogat­ed by ICE highlights something Edwina has long felt as a minority in both countries, but never understood so clearly: “I had merely moved from a place that wasn’t mine to another place that also wasn’t mine.”

At times, Edwina’s search seems logical to the point of dispassion­ate, more focused on finding an explanatio­n than finding the man she professes to love. But her behavior is entirely in keeping with what she does for a living as a quality assurance analyst, identifyin­g problems and their causes. In effect, Edwina is trying to root out the “edge cases” of her failed marriage — the “rare situations or use cases that engineers might miss when they write code, resulting in ugly bugs.”

“Edge Case” doesn’t lack for interestin­g characters and complicati­ons, which Chin spreads generously throughout the novel. Among those that could have been explored in slightly more depth: Edwina’s eating disorders and propensity to self-harm; her relationsh­ip with her hypercriti­cal mother; and her tendency to minimize her experience­s as a legal immigrant on a work visa, always comparing how lucky she is compared with families that are being separated, held in detention centers and subjected to ICE raids. Chin, however, ultimately rewards her readers by revealing why Marlin chose to leave. The result is a touching, introspect­ive story about identity, belonging and the effects of long-term transience on both the heart and soul.

“Edge Case” delves deeper than your typical missing-person mystery. It’s also a book about a woman trying to understand who she is on her own and where she belongs.

 ?? DREW STEVENS ?? YZ Chin’s novel “Edge Case” becomes a kind of suspense tale as main character Edwina, a frequently unreliable narrator, struggles to make sense of the disappeara­nce of her husband, Marlin.
DREW STEVENS YZ Chin’s novel “Edge Case” becomes a kind of suspense tale as main character Edwina, a frequently unreliable narrator, struggles to make sense of the disappeara­nce of her husband, Marlin.
 ??  ?? EDGE CASE By YZ Chin Ecco. 320 pp. $26.99
EDGE CASE By YZ Chin Ecco. 320 pp. $26.99

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