Wednesday, 26 October 2016

The Wangs vs. The World - Jade Chang

The Wangs vs. the World

Jade Chang

Charles Wang is mad at America. A brash, lovable immigrant businessman who built a cosmetics empire and made a fortune, he’s just been ruined by the financial crisis. Now all Charles wants is to get his kids safely stowed away so that he can go to China and attempt to reclaim his family’s ancestral lands—and his pride.

Charles pulls Andrew, his aspiring comedian son, and Grace, his style-obsessed daughter, out of schools he can no longer afford. Together with their stepmother, Barbra, they embark on a cross-country road trip from their foreclosed Bel-Air home to the upstate New York hideout of the eldest daughter, disgraced art world it-girl Saina. But with his son waylaid by a temptress in New Orleans, his wife ready to defect for a set of 1,000-thread-count sheets, and an epic smash-up in North Carolina, Charles may have to choose between the old world and the new, between keeping his family intact and finally fulfilling his dream of starting anew in China.

Please Pass The Books Review:

I picked up Jade Chang's debut novel, The Wangs vs. The World, with a mountain of high hope. I mean, it has a Kirkus review, for heaven's sake! The blurb promised a laugh-out-loud road trip, and I secretly harbored hopes of an Amy Tan incarnation, complete with a cultural generation gap that makes a glorious and rocky—but ultimately enlightening and brilliant—full circle.


Alas, I was bored at 7%. I pushed through, waiting for the rib-tickling humor promised in the blurb that never fully materialized. Waiting for characters that were too well developed to not have their loose strings tied up, left with their loose strings untied. Waiting for the story to actually unfold and for the "Aha!" moment, only to find there really isn't one.

The prose were sometimes fantastic, but mostly dredged out at slug-speed, forcing me to set the Kindle down more than I should've. The author is masterful at description and character development, but it's not enough to save The Wangs vs. The World from its "comedy"—and I use that word rather generously—that sometimes ventures into weird toilet humor and swearing that belittle prose that could be perfect. 

Could be. But they aren't because…

"Barbra had grown up in the college's employee quarters, a too smart girl with a too round face, who cursed under her breath in her parents native Hokkien but still learned to trill out the smooth hills and valleys of Mandarin as easily as she'd mastered driving the university's old Datsun and smiling at the college boys with just enough intention to keep them guessing despite her funny little nose."

Holy run-on-sentences, Batman! 

Here's the lowdown: I think a debut novelist was let down by her editor(s). The Wangs vs. The World could've been polished to a higher shine, but is instead let down by poor editing. A slow-moving plot and mediocre resolution is generally forgivable in a debut novel when the writing is great. Taken a paragraph at a time, Chang's prose and descriptions border on brilliant. But this isn’t a paragraph at a time, it's a whole book...and Chang desperately needed someone to help steer her and the Wangs into the correct lane.


I'd like to thank Net Galley and the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion, which this certainly is.

Jade Chang's debut novel, The Wangs vs. the World, was published on October 4, 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. She is a journalist who has covered arts, culture, and cities and a recipient of the Sundance Fellowship for Arts Journalism, the AIGA/Winterhouse Award for Design Criticism, and the James D. Houston Memorial scholarship from the Squaw Valley Community of Writers. 

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