Reading Asian American Literature 唐人寫書

Currently reading Camy Tang’s Sushi for One?

camy-tang-sushi-for-oneI seemed to have kicked off 2013 in reading with Asian Christian romance/chick lit in Camy Tang’s Sushi for One? Granted, I have been reading some Asian dystopia novels* and they are a challenge compared to my normal fare. I haven’t finished them while this first book in Tang’s Sushi Series was an easy read.

I figured I should give the series a try rather than pan it unfairly. But it’s not such an easy book to find with the Canadian version of online booksellers and the Toronto Public Library did not carry these books. So it had to wait until I was back in Vancouver and Vancouver Public Library carries the series.

Sushi for One? centers on Alexis “Lex” Sakai but also introduces us to her three cousins — Trish, Jennifer and Venus — who are the only Christians in a large Japanese and Chinese family. They have made a pact with each other, vowing to leave their dating lives up to God and not to date desperately. Even if the dubious honour of being OSFC (Oldest Single Female Cousin) starts to fall upon them. Lex is the first of the group to become OSFC.

The stage is set in the first five chapters. At a family party, Grandma Sakai hones in on Lex and threatens to cease funding Lex’s junior high girls’ volleyball team if Lex does not show up to her cousin’s wedding in four months with a guy she is seriously dating. I can see loopholes galore but either I am more sneaky or the girls are truly afraid of their grandmother. In the fifth chapter, the reader meets Aiden who spots Lex at a coffee shop with Trish and he was propositioned by the latter and turned her down. He simply has to meet Lex and jump through some hoops so they will end up happily every after together….

Initially, I was put off by nearly everything. I set a high standard when it comes to chick lit because I wouldn’t normally deign to read it and I am not amused by a lot in that genre. First, there was Lex. We get it – she is tomboy extraordinaire, a sports nut, “one of the boys”, a perfectionist on the volleyball court, with a superior athletic body who doesn’t realize or appreciate how beautiful she really is. I find it difficult to empathize with a clueless character.

Then, there is Grandma who is unhumanly acute and the perfect villain. I wondered how she could get away with the gross social violations she committed — like cruelly joking about Lex’s flat chest at the family gathering and berating Lex’s personality at another. It seemed convenient to the plot but then I remembered from my own experience how when someone has a great deal of money, he or she can rule over the rest of the family and get away with saying anything he or she pleases. Perhaps at the turning point all of the parts of Grandma come to make sense and she becomes a real character but I must be too personally jaded to buy that part.

Lex’s brother, Richard, and her cousin, Mimi, also struck me as caricatures. You’re supposed to be wary of oily Richard and really hate Mimi. Mimi is a character who couldn’t exist in real life with the implausible calf-length hair on a 4’8.75″ frame. Mimi was a tiny, evil and effective siren who turned up everywhere the girls went to spoil all of their plans. You’d think the family lived in a small town and not in LA. I realized that we are seeing these characters the way Lex sees them until finally she sees everything and everyone in the correct light … except for the utterly unredeemable characters.

I heard in a podcast interview that romantic comedy scripts necessarily build up with disaster upon disaster to place the protagonist in the most vulnerable state before redemption or the solution arrives. While this is probably generally true for fiction, I find it very difficult stomach in chick lit. I have nothing but skepticism as Lex’s horrible first date with George unfolds and skip past description of the physical mishaps she gets into that would be “physical comedy” or slapstick if it were a movie. Further, when Tang wrote scathingly about Asian Barbie dolls, the other females at the bridal shower and the church Lex visits, I felt little sympathy for Lex and rooted for the others.

But then, when Lex was really in pain and she was really frustrated, the humour worked better for me and I started to come around. If that is the test, when the protagonist was most vulnerable, I rooted for her a little. And I tried to understand that some people really are that sheltered.

Where does God and faith come into all of this? Like within normal Christian circles, His name is not tossed around in every conversation by far. While Trish was a hypocrite when it came to her faith and how she acted with men, Lex was also a hypocrite, ranking her devotion higher than her cousin’s but charging ahead with her plans throughout the novel without stopping to converse with God. In a Christian novel, this of course, has unpalatable results.

Two thirds of the way through, I was impressed with how the story moved along from where it started. A lot of story took place although it did seem like the timing for everything was just impeccable. All the loose ends were tied up except for the other three cousins’ relationship statuses.

In blurbs, Lex is The Jock, Venus is a Cactus, Jennifer is The Oddball and Trish is The Flirt. The titles make me groan but aren’t supposed to pigeon-hole the characters, except at first. In Sushi for One?, Tang got to tackle the world of sports and she moves on to video game development and catering in subsequent novels. There were no side stories to speak of but Trish had personal troubles at the time that removed her from Lex’s side. (Plus, Trish is a biologist.) I just might be more sympathetic to Trish’s character and it just happens the novel centered on her, Only Uni, is the second novel in the series. So, I’ve already put a hold on it from the library.

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* 1Q84 and The Fat Years