Jade Chang’s The Wangs vs. the World* is an exuberant, madcap debut novel about a family in crisis. It’s also one of the most anticipated novels of the fall. Here are five reasons to give it a try:
- It’s a spin on classic immigrant stories: Charles Wang, the patriarch of the family, came to the United States from Taiwan with next to nothing. Decades later, he’s a multimillionaire with a thriving cosmetics business—until the financial crisis hits. Suddenly Charles finds himself with no business, no home, and one very upset family. His new plan: head back to mainland China to reclaim the family land stolen in the Cultural Revolution. But first he needs to get from L.A. to upstate New York in a 38-year-old station wagon.
- It’s a road-trip novel: I can’t really remember the last time I read one of these. This is a high-energy book, and part of that is because the scenery changes so often–from L.A. to Arizona, Texas, New Orleans, North Carolina, and a tiny town in New York that hasn’t yet been found by New York City residents who need a country breather. Ms. Wang has a knack for conveying the flavor of a place, and she’s especially good at writing food, from crawfish and doughnuts to flaked whitefish and multi-course banquets.
- It’s chock full of compelling characters: Charles is headstrong, brash, lucky and then very unlucky, and full of dad jokes. He loves his luxuries (like his cigarette boat “painted with twenty-seven gallons of Suicide Blonde, his best-selling nail polish color”), but he loves his family more. Barbra, his second wife, is all seething analysis under her quiet exterior. Saina, the eldest daughter (a disgraced New York art-world darling) is torn between two men, and worse, can’t figure out how to move into the next phase of her life. Andrew is a sweet and funny would-be comedian. And Grace is an overprotected, undersupervised, suicide-obsessed, self-indulgent teenager. You’ll end up loving her.
- It’s angry: The first lines are, “Charles Wang was mad at America. Actually, he was mad at history.” Despite the futility of these feelings—sure, if none of twentieth-century history had happened, Charles would still be happily ensconced on his family’s land in China, he thinks—Charles still has them. Anger is, I think, an understudied emotion in novels, but this one has it in spades. All the Wangs, and most of the other characters who flit into their orbits, are angry about the way their lives have turned out. It’s compelling to watch them work their way out of that feeling.
- The ending: Well, I can’t really say much about that, can I? It’s satisfying without being overly neat—I loved it.
What are you reading this week?
*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration, which did not affect the content of my review.