Thursday, December 20, 2018

Book 160: Crazy Rich Asians



"Annabel knew at that moment she had made all the right decisions for her daughter- enrolling her at Far Eastern Kindergarten, choosing Methodist Girls' School over Singapore American School, forcing her to go to Youth Fellowship at First Methodist even though they were Buddhists, and whisking her away to Cheltenham Ladies' College in England for proper finishing. Her daughter had grown up as one of these people- people of breeding and taste. There wasn't a single diamond over fifteen carats in this crowd, not a single Louis Vuitton anything, no one looking over your shoulder for bigger fish. This was a family gathering, not a networking opportunity. These people were so completely at ease, so well-mannered."

Dates read: July 14-17, 2017

Rating: 5/10

Meeting the parents for the first time is always a little unnerving. I remember being crushed when my first serious boyfriend's parents didn't really like me. In retrospect I think it was less about me and more about the fact that I was the first girl he'd really brought home and his mom was a little overprotective, but either way I felt the sting of disapproval. Other parent-meetings went generally better, and my in-laws I've gotten along with since I first met them, so it all turned out fine in the end. But that moment you're knocking at the door, holding your boyfriend's hand, waiting to see if the people on the other side are going to think you're good enough for their kid or not is pretty scary.

Kevin Kwan's Crazy Rich Asians takes that scenario and turns it up to 11. Rachel Chu and Nick Young, both professors in New York, have been dating for about two years when Nick's best friend invites him home to be the best man in his wedding, and he decides to bring Rachel along. Rachel knows that home for Nick is Singapore, but knows precious little else about what she's getting herself into. You see, Nick isn't just another guy from Singapore. He's the scion of an incredibly, obscenely rich family, and when you combine that with his good looks, he's one of the most eligible bachelors in Asia. And his mother's plans for him don't really feature a future with an Chinese-born but American-raised daughter of a middle-class single mother.

The focus of the book is Rachel living a deeply fish-out-of-water scenario among the jet set elites of the island, but it's structured in an alternating-chapter format, so we see the perspectives of Nick, his mother Eleanor scheming, and his best friend/cousin Astrid struggling with the decline of her own marriage to someone outside their class, and other players in the drama as well. There are twists and turns and more designer name-dropping than you can shake a stick at as the action propels toward the central wedding and its aftermath. While this does keep the plot moving forward and keeps any one storyline from getting too bogged down, it also makes it hard for there to be much character development, especially of our leads Nick and Rachel.

While this novel, with its satire and fluff, was a great palate-cleanser from the deep and meaningful Kavalier & Clay, it indulged far too much in one of my least favorite plot devices: relying on people not talking to each other to fuel the drama. In order to buy into the entire premise of the book, you have to believe that Rachel knew virtually nothing at all about Nick's family before she landed in Singapore...which means you'd have to believe that after two years in a serious, committed relationship, they've never actually discussed his family once despite the fact that he'd met her mother long before. And while I could buy that someone coming from a rich, private family wouldn't have splashed out all the details to his latest weekend fling, the idea that he wouldn't tell (and she wouldn't push, frankly) doesn't really hold up. There's another giant plot hole where we're meant to believe that even though Rachel has been bullied by a group of girls at a weekend retreat INCLUDING SOMEONE LEAVING A SLICED OPEN DEAD FISH IN HER ROOM AND THREATENING HER, that she never told her boyfriend because they were boning and she didn't want to "spoil the mood". That is not a healthy relationship and I do not want those people to end up together.

I know that this trope doesn't necessarily bother everyone though, and besides my own personal beef, it's a fun, sharp, biting satire about the lifestyles of extravagantly wealthy people. And as much money as those people have, they're still at the end of the day dealing with the same problems anyone is: figuring out family, wrestling with love and heartbreak, trying to find happiness. They're just doing it in outfits that cost more than most of us make in a year. I actually found Nick and Rachel's story pretty boring (which is why I doubt I'll pick up any of the sequels) but did really enjoy Astrid's parts of the narrative. The movie version of this got great reviews over the summer and even though I did not love the book, I'm interested in seeing it! It sounds like the virtues of the book translated well to the screen. While it didn't work for me, this would be a great book for someone that wants something fluffy that does hit some emotional points but never too hard.

Tell me, blog friends...what's your plot pet peeve?

One year ago, I was reading: The Power (review to come)

Two years ago, I was reading: The Red Queen

Three years ago, I was reading: Occidental Mythology

10 comments:

  1. I liked, but didn't love, this one. I thought it was a fun, soapy read, and it was a good escape to read about people who have more money than I could ever dream of. But yeah, I also thought it was a bit weird that Rachel had NO CLUE about how rich Nick's family was??

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    1. I've been coming to find out I'm even pickier about my fluffy reads than I am about my more serious ones...this one just didn't quite give me the escapism I was hoping for! I think if I'd bought the central romance more it would have worked better

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  2. Oh man, my plot pet peeve is similar to yours. When there's a simple misunderstanding that ONE quick conversation would clear up and they DON'T TALK ABOUT IT because plot convenience. Ugh, so frustrating. It happens a ton in historical romance and just about wrecks the whole relationship. All they ever had to do was open their mouth and state the problem!

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    1. Once I started noticing it in my reading, it started to drive me crazy! There are a whole host of reasons that people don't have conversations they need to have, just write one of them in plausibly!

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  3. I enjoyed this book as a light, quick read, but didn't enjoy it enough to read any of the rest of the series.

    The movie is really fun, just a fairly well-done light and ultimately very sweet and feel-good romantic comedy, I definitely think it's worth seeing. The whole "do either of these lead characters actually talk to each other" trope didn't bother me much in the book, but did bother me a bit in the movie. Henry Golding does a good job playing Nick as a charming, sweet, and handsome guy, but gosh, reading between the lines he's kind of a dim bulb and/or almost criminally irresponsible if he didn't tell Rachel anything. (And he also seems to be entirely oblivious to what appears to be somewhat tense family dynamics between his mother and his grandmother.) It didn't diminish my enjoyment of the movie, but darn, that would not be a good character trait in a real person.

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    1. HOW do you not tell your serious partner, who you are thinking about marrying, at least some basic details about your family?! I've actually heard the sequels are better, but I'm not into these characters enough to follow them. And the movie is on my to-watch list as soon as it comes to Netflix DVD because I'm an old person who still gets them in the mail!

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  4. I read this recently and was very disappointed. It was just a bunch of wealth people being horrible, and none of them learned anything at all during the whole course of the book. I agree with you about the not-talking-to-each-other trope. I also thought the way a couple of the plots were resolved was just kind of...cheap? Way too tidy? I did like both Rachel and Astrid though, and Astrid's story was interesting until the resolution. I honestly don't know why everyone loved this book so much. But I hear the movie is all about the setting and clothes and I am definitely willing to watch it just for that.

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    1. It's one of those where I think the hype really didn't do it justice. If I went into it without expectations, I probably would have thought it was just a fun beach read type thing, but people told me it was actually good and it wasn't for me. I also felt like much of the plot resolution wasn't really earned. And Astrid's story was my favorite part of the book, I wish we'd gotten more of it!

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  5. Very interesting review! I have CRA on my TBR but actually think I might pass on it now. Non-communication is my number one pet peeve, and I don't know that I'll want to read a book where it features so heavily. In the movie, Nick and Rachel have only been dating one year before traveling to Singapore, and her silence on the fish incident comes off as a stubborn streak to prove that she can handle things herself... which sounds like a good decision by the screenwriter(s)!

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    1. I am definitely a minority voice on this one...so many people have loved it! But I did spend a lot of time wondering why two people who are allegedly so in love seem to barely have any meaningful conversation

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