Book Title: Crazy Rich Asians
Author: Kevin Kwan
Genre: Literary Fiction
Date Published: January 1st, 2013
Date Read: June 16th, 2014
Cover Love: Simple and graphic – my hot button words! Reminds me of Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple – a mysterious, pop-art style woman, eyes hidden by glasses. And the earring is eye-catching here, which meshes well with a book about money-hungry, money-spending families.
Given Synopsis: “When New Yorker Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, she envisions a humble family home and quality time with the man she hopes to marry. But Nick has failed to give his girlfriend a few key details. One, that his childhood home looks like a palace; two, that he grew up riding in more private planes than cars; and three, that he just happens to be the country’s most eligible bachelor.
On Nick’s arm, Rachel may as well have a target on her back the second she steps off the plane, and soon, her relaxed vacation turns into an obstacle course of old money, new money, nosy relatives, and scheming social climbers.”
What I’d Add: The synopsis makes it sound as if the book is all Rachel’s POV. It isn’t. Kwan tries to let everyone in everyfamily have a moment to narrate. And these families are HUGE. You’ll be hearing a lot of voices!
It’s Sorta Like: An obnoxious Joy Luck Club, plus those chick lit books that mention the designer of every item of clothing a person is wearing.
My Grade: C
Review: The copious blurbs by other authors did let me know what I was getting into (anybody read those, by the way? I get annoyed when the first couple pages in a book are merely plugs from other authors, all saying roughly the same thing). This was going to be a “light read.” A “romp,” if you will. I think someone even called it “sudsy,” whatever that is supposed to mean when describing literature (squeaky clean? Like a bar of soap? A soap opera?). So it was not necessarily meant to be analyzed, probed for a deeper meaning. If you didn’t like a simple, “sudsy” novel every now and then, this one wasn’t for you.
But I like me some nonsense, fun fiction in my life. So off I went.
The first pages are a good indication of the complexity of this family, and thus, this narrative. A family tree gets a two-page spread in teeny little print, outlining names you won’t remember and relationships at a similar convoluted level. There were times I had to refer back to this list: families are connected by confusing marriages, and who is cousins with who again? (whom?) And a complex family would be fine…if the book didn’t try to tell all of their stories.
I’d say there were two main storylines. Rachel and Nick, who grace the book blurb, and whom you think the book is exclusively about. And Astrid (one of Nick’s many cousins) and her husband Michael, who seem perfect on the outside, but have problems of their own. BUT THEN you also hear from the bad egg in the family, Eddie. And Nick’s mother and her crazy biddy Bible group with lots of other crazy mothers. And the couple getting married (Colin and Araminta, how’s that for a name?). And even a girl who recognizes Colin in the States because of his fame in Singapore. That’s a lot of people. That’s too many people.
I’ve read books where the author has done this before: trying to do too much, include too many people. But it’s especially unfortunate in this case, because I really liked those two storylines. Rachel is thrust into an impossible situation, for which her boyfriend does not prepare her at all. And poor, flat Nick. We only hear from Nick’s POV a couple of times. Which is tough, because he could be said to be the crux of the story. He certainly puts all the events in motion. If he hadn’t invited Rachel to Singapore, the story wouldn’t be a story. But even when you do hear from him, it is in small moments, when he looks adoringly at his girlfriend and muses about how beautiful she is, or expresses anger at his family. It’s like those are his only two emotions: love=Rachel, frustration=family. You hear way too much from every one of his family members, and not enough from him! If he’s the “most eligible bachelor in Singapore,” I’d like to know why. Besides his good looks. And family money. Never mind, that’s usually good for a lot of girls in regards to celebrities. But I’d like, as a reader, to see some of his personality.
The book also does this thing where it mentions the brand name of the clothes everyone’s wearing. Which I’ve never really understood. Maybe for fashion mavens, people who know every fashion designer and collection out there, these clothes would be easier to picture. But I have no idea what a Nicholas Kirkwood stiletto looks like. Or a dress from a yet-to-be-released line by insert-famous-designer-here. Those are just words that mean essentially nothing on the page. And unless I look up every designer as I read it, it doesn’t add to the story for me. It’s clutter. I get it: they wear nice clothes. Expensive clothes. But it’s name dropping and it doesn’t turn me on as a reader.
And I’m not sure whose POV the footnotes are from. The author? Nick? I found them rather distracting.
So it is a light story that is needlessly complex. I wanted the scope to be narrowed a lot more. The biggest moment for me that pinpointed the problem was a story that Rachel’s mother tells in the book’s final pages. I found that backstory so compelling, so interesting. Where was the book on that?! Rachel’s mother is made more interesting in ten pages than Nick was in the entire book. And that’s a bummer.