Bingo Review 6: Adaptation
I never did go see the movie Crazy Rich Asians, but when it first came out and was such a big hit, I thought it sounded entertaining, and picked up the book. It’s been on my shelf ever since. I haven’t gotten to it until now because I often don’t like general fiction novels or romance.
This book was written very much as a romantic comedy, and much of the plot follows the expected trajectory of boy and girl are getting along fine, big problem almost splits them up, resolution sees them reunite and poised for rosy future. I also remember hearing somewhere that the author intentionally modeled the over-the-top-ness on either tele-novelas or soap operas, and he’s nailed that big time, both in the content and structure of the novel.
As most people probably know, this is nominally the story of Rachel and Nick, two NYU professors who decided to take a summer vacation to visit Nick’s family in Singapore so he can do best man things at his best friend’s wedding. Nick does not warn Rachel that his family is both extremely rich and extremely socially interested. Culture shock and melodrama of various kinds happen, the wedding actually manages to occur, and Rachel learns some big secrets about her own history. In the grand scheme of the novel though, Rachel and Nick aren’t quite even main characters, they’re just one of several ongoing plot-lines.
The thing I liked most about the novel was probably how it’s structured. The narrator is almost a character voice in itself, since the general voice remains the same every time the perspective switches, which it does on a pretty regular basis, so you can see everything someone is plotting (or at least that they are plotting) and know who is aware and who is not, and thus tension builds until the big explosion, which occurs just after the wedding.
While I appreciate the comedy in the various characters (in many senses of the word) and their interactions, I’m not much of a fan of the soap opera, and a lot of what happens is just plain mean-spirited even as it is potentially realistic. What a lot of the other girls say and do to Rachel is believable for a reality tv show, the hijinks some of the spoiled rich guys get up to are likewise; it’s just not all that amusing because again, it’s often pretty unsympathetic (which in several cases is the point, as in you’re not supposed to like that character).
My final complaint is probably minor but it does bother me. There is a degree of realism introduced by the near continuous footnotes required to explain the various Signaporean language and culture references. This isn’t the complaint; I like this part. What bugs me is the sheer unrealism of Rachel and Nick in their lives at the beginning of the whole novel. Even for NYU, what kind of professor doesn’t have research or teaching over the summer? Especially if you’re pre-tenure, but even if that’s done, neither Nick nor Rachel are old enough to be a full Professor in rank, meaning they would need to be continuously building their publication and teaching records. I get that this is fiction, and not a terribly realistic variety of it, but still, the contrast between a level of real and practically cartoon is a little annoying.
Final verdict: perfectly acceptable as a disposable type summer read (as in I will be selling this to a used bookstore, not keeping it), but it’s really not my type.