“Paper” by Catherine Lim Summary

“Paper” is a short story by Catherine Lim that appeared in her collection Little Ironies: Stories of Singapore. It’s about a man, Tay Soon, who becomes obsessed with the thought of buying his dream house. When he and his wife, Lee Yian, decide to accelerate their savings by investing in the booming stock market, they’re overwhelmed with the results. Here’s a summary of “Paper”.

“Paper” Summary

Tay Soon is obsessed with buying his dream house, with a combination of features he’s seen in houses on the island and in magazines. He knows every detail and feature it will have. His enthusiasm, which he’s been told is too much for a man, has rubbed off on his wife, Lee Yian, and children. They all talk about it endlessly, much to the annoyance of Tay Soon’s mother, with whom they live in her small terrace house.

Tay Soon and Lee Yian have saved 40 thousand dollars so far. The house will cost much more, but they just need enough for the down payment. After their annual bonuses, they have 48 thousand. The stock market is booming. Dr. Soo has made lots of money. They quickly turn 30 thousand into 55, and the other 18 becomes 36. Tay soon gets a loan of 20 thousand which quickly becomes 80. They’ve made 100 thousand in a few days.

Everyone is talking about the stock market and it’s in all the papers. After Tay Soon sells some shares, only to see their value climb further the next day, he vows not to sell anymore. Husband and wife talk and think of nothing else. They’ll be worth a million soon. Lee Yian and Tay Soon offer to get his mother into the market, but she refuses, viewing shares as worthless.

Lee Yian, being superstitious, doesn’t like to directly refer to their gains, but Tay Soon isn’t worried about this.

The stock market bubble bursts but it’s expected to recover. When the slide continues, Tay Soon wonders if they should sell. Lee Yian heard stocks will rise again. Their gains drop to half and then they drop to marginal.

Dr. Soo’s wife is investing in two companies on inside information of a big recovery. They follow her lead, selling everything and putting the money into those. They both crash shortly after. Lee Yian blames Dr. Soo’s wife for deliberately misleading them out of jealousy. Tay Soon weeps over the loss of the money and dream house.

He focuses exclusively on watching the market but it’s hopeless. His broker advises him to sell but Tay Soon can’t bear the thought. He’s haunted by his dreams, talks to himself, doesn’t eat and beats the children.

Lee Yian withdraws with the children for comfort. Tay Soon’s mother laboriously prepares herbal medicines for him to no avail. A medicine man’s treatment is also ineffective. On the advice of family, Lee Yian puts Tay Soon in a hospital. She has enough money for his funeral, but his mother insists on taking care of it.

Her son wanted a beautiful house and she will give him one. She goes to the best paper house maker on the island and has one made special with the features Tay Soon had spoken of—marble floors, a timbered ceiling and kidney-shaped pool. This isn’t like the usual houses for the dead. He can do it but it will cost a lot.

It’s about two meters high with a frame of wire and bamboo and it’s beautiful. It has silver flowers and paper furnishings and cars.

At the appointed time, the paper house is brought to Tay Soon’s grave and set on fire. It burns brilliantly for three minutes and becomes a heap of ashes.

I hope this summary of “Paper” by Catherine Lim was helpful.