A searching, sharply observed debut novel on the interconnection between work and life, loneliness and kinship, and the projects that occupy our time.
How do we take stock of a life―by what means, and by what measure? This is the question that preoccupies Alice, a Taiwanese immigrant in her late thirties. In the off-hours from her day job, Alice struggles to create a project about the enigmatic downtown performance artist Tehching Hsieh and his monumental, yearlong 1980s performance pieces. Meanwhile, she becomes the caretaker for her aging stepfather, a Vietnam vet whose dream of making traditional Chinese furniture dissolved in alcoholism and dementia.
As Alice roots deeper into Hsieh’s radical use of time―in one piece, the artist confined himself to a cell for a year; in the next, he punched a time clock every hour, on the hour, for a year―and his mysterious disappearance from the art world, her project starts metabolizing events from her own life. She wanders from subway rides to street protests, loses touch with a friend, and tenderly observes her father’s slow decline.
Moving between present-day and 1980s New York City, with detours to Silicon Valley and the Venice Biennale, this vivid debut announces Lisa Hsiao Chen as an audacious new talent. Activities of Daily Living is a lucid, intimate examination of the creative life and the passage of time.
Finalist for the 2023 Gotham Book Prize and the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel
Longlisted for the 2023 Carol Shields Prize