Reading Asian American Literature 唐人寫書

Currently reading: Camy Tang’s Only Uni

camy-tang-only-uniFor a novel that is generally considered light reading, it took me a while to finish Camy Tang’s Only Uni, the second in her Sushi Series. It’s funny, too, because I enjoyed this installment far more than the first. I am just kind of busy these days…!

Book 1 introduced the four Christian cousins in a large Japanese-Chinese family and I disliked Lex, the “jock” protagonist of the first book, almost the entire time. As if setting up for the next book, “flirt” Trish was having a boyfriend crisis and showed up in really bad shape one morning and was unable to help Lex through a difficult time. Trish’s difficulties piqued my curiosity about the book in which she would be in the spotlight and, thank goodness, it was the very next installment.

Thus, I was interested in the story right away either because I am more like Trish or because I knew the characters already and didn’t mind seeing them again. Sisters and best friends for life living in the same city and around the same age aren’t people I have.

Several aspects of Trish were after my own heart and I am solidly a “Trish” in that “Which character are you?” game:

  • She has body image problems and feels inferior to cousin Venus who has self-control (and seems like a man-eating bitch) and cousin Lex who is the supreme athlete
  • She makes the same mistakes over and over again and that includes alienating her friends and God for a man
  • Her history includes a string of bad men
  • She is a senior biologist at a pharmaceutical company and Tang’s short bio at the back of the book provided all the explanation I needed: the author was a biological researcher before becoming a full-time writer
  • She prays for the same thing I do, “Please give me the wisdom about what to do now. Please help me not go all crazy about stuff that isn’t important. Oh, and help me have the right attitude.” I am often praying for grace to handle my problems.
  • While Lex took up running in a consummate athlete manner, Trish is the kind of runner I am: “Trish only jogged when she felt fat, which was about once a week, which fell on a Monday this time… She checked the time on her computer. Two o’clock. She had a two-hour incubation time, and she would need to stay late tonight to finish the assay. She’d be a good girl and go running now.” I absolutely loved the tie back to the life of a bench scientist.

The love triangle is quickly set up. Kazuo is the artistic and uber-suave Japanese national who refuses to accept his new status as an ex-boyfriend; he has Grandma’s stamp of approval and eerie prodding to pursue Trish. Spenser Wong – “six feet of gorgeousness” – is Trish’s co-worker whom she rebuffs with accusations of being a flirt (!!) and not a Christian. Since the narrative flips to Spenser’s perspective after the initial chapters, then you know who gets the girl in the end but must overcome considerable odds in between. Actually, Spenser is Christian so that problem is already solved but he has wallowed in man-whore, womanizing and sleazeball ways (to be less PG) and needs to find his way back and prove it; meanwhile, Trish has vowed to turn over a new leaf and has a set of Corinthians-inspired Rules to live by.

While the side story of Trish’s father’s infidelity and the escalating tension with the roommate were annoying, once again Tang carried the story a great distance from where it started, putting plenty of obstacles in front of Trish that she can’t be but commended for what she overcame. Just like I didn’t see it coming in the first book, I was completely blindsided in Only Uni.

**** SPOILER alert *********

When it became apparent that Spenser had a secret and was going somewhere right after work every day, I thought it was an ailing elder relative he was caring for. His secret is that Kazuo had an affair with Spenser’s wife leading the married couple to break up. The blindside was that Spenser has a child that Trish first meets unknowingly while leading Sunday School. I should have seen the family angle coming around the corner since then the reader has to cope with Trish having happily ever after as a stepmother ….

As a responsible Christian novel – it seems as if Tricia is the only of the four Christian thirty-somethings cousins to not be a virgin – then the consequences of casual sex (i.e., not with your husband) are addressed first in an HIV scare then pregnancy. I was so surprised with the pregnancy twist that I barreled through the last chapters wondering if it would turn out to be a false alarm and just a lesson, a wake-up call for Trish. But it is the world coming into balance that Spenser comes around and loves Tricia and is not just in it to get back at Kazuo and they form an instant two-child kind of nuclear family. My bet is Trish’s has a girl…

While I found Only Uni a great improvement and more enjoyable to read, I’m still picky and some has to do with the romance-slash-humour genre, to be sure. I found Kazuo to be such a cariacature being so ridiculously sexy, slick as oil, popping up everywhere Trish goes and preceded by his sandalwood scent. I know you weren’t supposed to like him – but it was to the point that I couldn’t see how he captured a biologist like Trish in the first place. I suppose not all biologists need be unfailingly logical. I thought his dialogue was clumsy in the attempt to draw him as a moody artist and I just had to write down one of his near to last lines, “We will be alone again, you and I, in our world of artistic freedom and decadent creativity.”

I also felt like the appearance of Mimi and Grandma would break my suspension of disbelief. Mimi showed up all of once in the novel to wiggle around Spenser while he is on a date with Trish and her calf-length hair is now ankle length? What next, her hair is a train carried by a guy fawning over her? The presence of a character like Mimi and making fun of the Mean Girls at church (“Katy, Katelyn, Kassie”) makes me sad that novels written for women have this catty element.

Two other points on which I’m being picky: I couldn’t believe how naive the characters were allowed to be and Tang’s continued over-use of words like “jabbed”, “stabbed (a manicured finger)” and “skewered”. The latter is self-explanatory and just par for the genre and an author’s style. As for the former, how could a biologist not recognize the danger of living in a house that has the amount of mold the bathroom has? Why did Trish not freak out once she learned she was pregnant about her unborn child’s exposure to mold, reagents at work and hazards of home renovations? I momentarily lose empathy for the character.

Finally, in the first book, Grandma who was only weirdly evil, taking away funding for Lex’s volleyball team to make her granddaughter date seriously followed by publicly lambasting Lex’s personality. In Only Uni, Grandma showed serious delusion pushing Kazuo on Trish rather than allowing the girl to have free will, offering housing to desperate Trish in return for them getting back together. It turns out non-independently wealthy Kazuo is the son of Japanese bank owners and Grandma wants to cement an alliance between her bank and theirs through their marriage and, most catty of all, Kazuo’s family will owe alimony if the marriage is dissolved – win-win. Again, I found the manipulation by the matriarch off-putting and an extreme example of girl vs girl, Christian vs non-believer and young vs old.

But I still thought it was good. Some lightweight scientific humour made me want more such as being “hot as radioactive P-32” and legs being “weak like electrophoresis gel”. That is weak indeed! Since it was Trish’s narrative, other pop culture references were a little more geeky as well.

While Lex’s suitor in the first novel was wooden and bland, I found Spenser to be more fully formed, more real with mistakes in his past. And, I cannot deny that when Spenser fell for Trish and was repeatedly dazzled by her smile, it made me feel mushy. If love were so nice and simple – and that’s what these sorts of novels are for.

For me, that is the end of reading the Sushi Series. The next installment focuses on Venus who is tremendously hard on men and runs a game development company but I’m not a Venus nor am I a sensitive Jennifer but those characters may resonate more with other women!

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