I hated the characters, hated the plot, but loved this book. Here’s why.
This novel focuses on four main characters, Stanley and his ex-wife Linda, and their two children, Kate and Denny, coming together around the concept of a family trust. Through their eyes, we see a myriad of side characters, but we are primarily privy to only their hopes and fears. Stanley is dying of pancreatic cancer, and the family is there to support him even when they don’t want to. Clearly, there are some ulterior motives. In the same way that Kevin Kwan’s characters in Crazy Rich Asians were obsessed with money and status, Wang’s characters are as well. But where there was light-hearted comedy and satire in Kwan’s trilogy, there is little happiness or even humor in Wang’s novel.
“After all, how could you stop an event already fated to happen?”
Stanley’s exaggerated view of himself and his finances is what propels the story forward. Each of the main characters believes him when he says he has the means to provide happy futures for them. With this partial truth, they each begin to stew in dreams of prospective income and relief from financial stress, while fighting each other for the right to claim it.
Meanwhile, Kate is uncovering marital troubles she didn’t know she had, Fred is drawn into some ridiculous schemes in the hopes of upward mobility in his career, and Linda finds herself surprisingly searching for new companionship after nearly a decade of divorce from Stanley. These three find themselves in new complicated relationships that they don’t totally understand, with people whose motives are not as clear as they should be. With limited information, how can they make choices that will benefit them in the end? If they are so focused on what the relationship does for them, at what point do they cross over into the selfish territory they believe Stanley has occupied for the majority of their lives?
This story sparked massive introspection and reflections on the consumerist/capitalist society I live in, but Wang’s approach is intricate and subtle. She crafted a compelling story in which I found myself hating all of the characters yet finding myself in each of them. Her timing is perfect in that she reveals over time through lack of communication between characters how little they understand of each others’ motives and aspirations.
I was captivated by this pessimistic story. I felt as if all the characters were dancing towards inevitable disappointment, and this book is a trainwreck I was excited to witness. Each of their strange approaches to the world felt so perfect for their character. While I often felt myself thinking surely I or anyone I know would not make such choices, Wang allowed space for these choices to be made by characters who are people we have interacted with, or even could be ourselves. The multiple points of view, all in third person and not terribly dissimilar from each other felt perfect for this book, and the fifth perspective for just one chapter was excellently timed. I would definitely recommend this book, if you’re a fan of well-executed writing tactics.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss+ in exchange for an honest review.