* 2021 Openbook Award
In early 2000s Taiwan, where household stoves and local restaurants alike run on propane cylinders rather than piped-in gas, Casey and his sometimes-friends, sometime-competitors in the propane delivery business are the threads that stitch together the thoroughly human, and often messy, history of one decade in a small town.
At the start of the new millennium, Casey moves to his mother’s hometown and takes over operation of a local propane cylinder delivery service. In small-town Taiwan, where there is no piped-in gas, propane cylinders are the lifeblood of home kitchens and the restaurant industry alike. Timely delivery of the cylinders demands that delivery drivers know every back alley and shortcut in town, and since all day they’re in and out of homes and businesses, they are often privy to tidbits of information and accidental observations that others will never know.
Initially, outsider Casey stands out like a sore thumb in the small town, and becomes the object of various unfounded rumors. One day, a Mrs. Fang simultaneously requests deliveries from all three of the town’s propane delivery services. In the ensuing brouhaha, only the perceptive Casey realizes the root of the problem: Mrs. Fang is suffering from sudden onset dementia. Fortunately, she still remembers her son’s telephone number, and thus Casey is able to call in the assistance she requires. From this day forward, the townspeople begin to accept Casey as one of their own.
The motley occurrences in the lives of Casey and his amiable competitors become the backbone for the story of an entire town, the rise and fall of the propane delivery industry bookending this nostalgic portrayal of life in early 2000s Taiwan. While the propane cylinders require significant muscle to heft, this fictional peek inside a male-dominated industry has no shortage of strong female characters in the wives of Casey and his cohort. True partners through thick and thin, they not only keep the home fires burning for their hard-working husbands, but also stand ready to work their feminine magic on the most vexing business problems.