Mary H.K. Choi’s Emergency Contact is going on my list of favorite books of 2019, so there was no doubt I was going to read Permanent Record as soon as I could get my hands on it.
Pablo Neruda Rind, the half Korean and half Pakistani son of a pair of poetry lovers, is in a rut. Since he dropped out of NYU after (during? unclear.) his freshman year, he works the nightshift in a fancy Brooklyn bodega and hangs out with his roommates. He struggles with money, always wondering how he will be able to pay his share of the rent, and hiding all of his bills and letters from collection agencies into his sock drawer. He is frozen by his general anxiety about his stalled life, and can’t seem to do anything about it.
One night, superstar Leanna Smart comes into the bodega looking for snacks. It takes Pablo a minute to figure out who she is (QUESTION: is it ever explained how he knew who she was because of the name on her credit card? Her other (real?) name is mentioned and then never brought up again. Wasn’t sure if I missed something), and by the time he realizes he should be star struck, they’ve already been chatting and flirting for a while.
After a tiny bit of instagram flirting via hashtag (#spelunk), she shows up again, and the two of them end up on a private jet to LA for a few days to get to know each other better. He drops everything, and doesn’t tell anyone where’s he’s going, simply to spend some more time with the two versions of Leanna — the public star that everyone in the world sees, and the private girl that only a few people have the chance to get to know.
After Pablo signs a 100 page NDA, promising not to mention the nature of his relationship with Lee to anyone, ever, for the rest of time, they spend a fun night at the hotel, and then a nice day with her grandmother.
And then this is where the book loses me.
SPOILERS TO FOLLOW
Pablo can’t get back to New York due to a blizzard. He has to miss work and the college interview that his mother made him promise to go to. He deals with it by ignoring it, which, I GET. But it does not make Pablo a particularly endearing character.
And it make’s Lee an even less endearing character, as she simply doesn’t seem to care that his life has been disrupted because she wanted to hang out with him. For the rest of the book, her needs and wants constantly trump Pablo’s, because she is more important, and he just needs to understand that.
At one point, she convinces him to fly to Seoul with her, and then she more or less ditches him there for a whole day, without any money, no way to contact her, and no way to get back into the hotel room if he decides to leave. And she pretty much wants him to feel badly for her, not the other way around. This was the moment I decided that I hated her.
Listen. I get that our the cost of our higher education is crazy, and that student loans are terrible. I understand that anxiety and depression cause people to act in ways that they know don’t make sense.
But Pablo. Come on. Move back in with your mother. Take the bills out of your sock drawer. Stop blaming other people for becoming successful because you think it should have been you.
I was beyond relieved when Pablo seemed to get his life in order and started his job as a waiter going to school part time. HOWEVER, I was annoyed that he was planning a career as a youtube food influencer. I was also glad that he turned down Lee’s offer to go on tour with her, as she clearly hadn’t grown at all as a person in the time they had been apart. (I actually had to read ahead after the Korea part of the story, because if they had ended up together, I wouldn’t have finished the book).
I don’t really know how I felt about this book. I didn’t like the characters. I didn’t like or understand their arcs. However, like in Emergency Contact, I thought her approach to talking about money and wealth was the most interesting part of the story.
I still love Choi’s writing, and will keep looking for new stuff from her, but this wasn’t my favorite.