Times top-10 book of the year, NY Times editor's choice, booksense, etc.; fairly clearly an establishment book which has gone through the publicity grinder / machine and no doubt helped by its setting in pure sex-in-the-city manhattan, with the final added hook that the protagonist is a korean yalie, so is the author, "authorial avatar," in other words.
trying to be nice to minority writers here... should support the limited world of Asian-Pac writers, but clearly an order of magnitude less skillful than chang rae lee's native speaker.
100,000 words (600 pages) of vanity fair / manhattan / ditzy korean-american yalie trying to manage the first few months... and then years, after college graduation. interplays hat-making, investment-bank job searching, and "immigrant experience."sort of Harper's Bazaar short fiction house style brought up to the 600 page mark
. workshopped and professionalized, but lacking heart / resonance. kudos for straight literary fiction without genre or slipstream elements, but the 3.4 goodreads is giving seems about right / fair. the main reviewer on goodreads does a pretty good write-up.
(Chao is a minorly well-known columnist in the expat magazines in Shanghai, and she herself is a Princeton grad of first generation american background)second most read review captures the "soap opera" and lonnnng... feel of the book
vanity fair, set in bonfire of the vanities.
the problem is that while, objectively speaking, the world isn't really improved by the addition of this book to the universe, there are very very few asia-pac writers. if one trashes this as 2/5, budding young asia-pac writers will lay down their pens.... so... sympathy 3/5
problems: the writer defines herself as "immigrant" and then obsessively documents Manhattan WASP elite. or to be slightly mean, with her nose pressed firmly against the window glass of the world she adores and worships, she obsessively documents the wasp manhattan/finance nexus that better writers skewer (Tom Wolfe) or ironically embody (Updike). never has the courage to write a modernist or style-focused work that "advances experimental literature." instead, buys into the value system, "I am second-class, and these people are gods to me, I will document them as the highest form of hero-worship." = this is itself "middle-class writing"
(meanwhile the wasps themselves are all strung out on vicodin and wondering why this strange immigrant korean is staring at them ha 8)
Chang Rae Lee, the other side of the equation, actually attempts something in Native Speaker; glorifying his own community.
a 2/5 or 3/5, but final argument for the 3 is the complete dearth of K.A. fiction. so let us be encouraging...