Tag Archives: Satire

Review: Interior Chinatown

Interior Chinatown

Interior Chinatown
By Charles Yu
Vintage, 9780307948472, November 2020, 288pp.

The Short of It:

The use of satire in this novel is very effective in highlighting Asian American stereotypes and the immigrant experience. Funny, honest but also a little sad.

The Rest of It:

Interior Chinatown won the National Book Award so it’s been getting plenty of attention and I will say that it’s much deserved. You need to know going in that it’s satire and told completely in script format. Hence the title, Interior Chinatown, which is how many scripts begin. Interior, exterior, you get the gist.

Willis Wu has one dream. He wants to be “Kung Fu Guy”. If you’ve ever watched a TV show or movie where Asian American actors are included, you know this guy. He’s the guy that shows up, cleans house with his martial arts skills and has a lot of close-ups. He’s also the guy who ends up with the pretty woman. But Willis Wu is always:

  • Asian Guy Making a Strange Face
  • Asian Delivery Driver
  • Generic Asian Man #1, #2, #3
  • Dead Asian Guy

These roles are played by Willis both in real life and in a TV show called Black and White. His desire to be “Kung Fu Guy” eclipses all things, including his family. He constantly struggles to have enough to eat and yet he’s a good guy and cares for his elderly neighbors in the run down building he lives in by offering a bit of meat to them now and then.

He shows up to work. Does what he is told but through his observant eyes he continually yearns to be “that” person, the person he is not. Plus, his own mother and father lived similar lives. At first the pretty or handsome Asian and then later Old Asian Woman or Man.

There is a very blurred line in this novel between what is happening or what we think is happening. Is it real life or a TV show? Or both? I grew up with a father who cared little about me or his family but cared a lot about Bruce Lee. This infatuation with Lee is also found in this novel. He was bigger than life. He was the one Asian to be. His fame crossed many continents and he married an American school teacher but look at the tragedy that was his life. As you know, his son Brandon also died tragically and on set to boot.

Have you seen the movie Once Upon a Time In Hollywood? There is an actor who portrays Lee at the height of his career. The scene received much criticism for perpetuating Asian stereotypes. Even after Lee’s success in Hollywood, the stereotypes continued. Few movies cast Asian American actors without including a stereotype to go with it.

Interior Chinatown, with its script format and humorous tone will keep you reading and you will chuckle here and there. Yu has a sense of humor but if you sit with it for awhile, you will also note the longing the main character feels and how difficult is is for an immigrant family to make a home for themselves in this country. The story is well-written and balanced. I highly recommend it.

Source: Purchased
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Review: The Uncoupling

The Uncoupling

The Uncoupling
By Meg Wolitzer
(Riverhead Hardcover, Hardcover, 9781594487880, April 2011, 288pp.)

The Short of It:

The Uncoupling takes relationships to a whole new level. One where everything bright and shiny is stripped away to reveal the dull, scratched-up surface of what’s underneath. Funny and wry but dead serious at times, The Uncoupling pokes fun at what couples hold dear.

The Rest of It:

When a new drama teacher comes to town and decides to put on a production of Lysistrata, the women of Stellar Plains suddenly turn against their significant others by withholding sex. Although the play is about just that, the women do not consider this fact as a cold wind rolls through town, taking their sexual appetites with them.

This was an interesting read. It’s a satire with a bit of magical realism tossed in. Wolitzer takes a topic that has been discussed many, many times before and somehow makes it fresh. Because let’s face it, women have been turning men away for years. Especially married women.  No need to be secretive here but with kids, work and the day-to-day stuff that goes on, it happens all the time.

Except, these women can’t figure out why. They are confused and don’t understand how one day you can be lusting after your husband and the next day…poof! As each character goes within herself to find out why, insecurities and frustration come flooding out.

This is one of those novels where characters are well-developed and likable but don’t really matter. I should say, that their names don’t really matter. These characters are universal and can be found in any town and I think Wolitzer purposely wrote them that way. In fact, the town…neither big nor small could be Anytown, USA. It’s a “slice of life” story. The kind of story that allows you to take what you want from it.

I will say this, towards the end of the book,  a political statement is made regarding the war in Afghanistan and although I can see why Wolitzer thought it would tie-in, it didn’t and actually pulled me right out of the story. The magical elements disintegrated and I was quickly brought back to reality.

In summary, I liked the story and how the characters meshed with one another and I liked how generic the characters were. It allowed me to easily escape into their world. I found the writing to be beautiful and although the ending sort of threw me, it didn’t affect my overall feeling towards the book. I am not a fan of magical realism but it was very subtle and handled well. Overall, a quick but engaging read.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher via Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program.

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