A Crash Course In Couture

I finally got around to reading Crazy Rich Asians! Kevin Kwan’s novel, the film adaptation of which took Hollywood by storm this past August (and I still haven’t seen) has been on my to-read list since around October, but I kept pushing it back because my method of choosing books to read is literally eenie meenie monie mo. BUT I finally got around to reading it, so let’s get into my thoughts!

For those of us who (somehow) haven’t heard what the book is about, it’s a pretty simple plot. Beautiful Nick brings his naive girlfriend, Rachel, to Singapore to meet his family on a summer vacation, but there’s something Nick hasn’t told Rachel: he’s filthy stinkin’ rich. And so ensues a lot of gossip about this mysterious girlfriend and devilish plans to get her and Nick to break up.

Crazy Rich Asians was another one of those reads to get me out of my literary comfort zone; I’ve said before I’m not a huge fan of romantic stories and I don’t think I’ve ever read a book by an Asian author about primarily Asian characters. But what really made me want to read it was that I needed a break from the heavy material I’ve been reading, like books about slavery and Freddie Mercury’s final years living with HIV/AIDS. Crazy Rich Asians was funny, easy to get through in terms of the simple language, and Kwan’s writing kept the book lighthearted. Nick and Rachel’s summertime Singapore getaway was the perfect bit of brainless, gossip-fueled nonsense that I needed.

While getting through the book wasn’t necessarily difficult, it wasn’t entirely enjoyable. I didn’t find a single character relatable, and that’s not because I am neither rich nor Asian (though some may agree I’m crazy). Kwan spends more time talking about the clothes his characters wear, the cars they ride in, and the houses they live in than what they even look like. Every person in the book is flat, which is a turn off in any book. All we know about any of his characters is that they are Asian. Some are rich, some are not. There’s a pretty vague description of Rachel that leads me to believe she’s sort of pretty. And the older ladies have perms. That’s literally it. Kwan’s writing about clothes and scenery was descriptive, but when it came to the people, it was lacking. Sure, he knows tons about designers us poorsies have never heard of, but it wouldn’t have killed him to spend more time writing depth into his characters in addition to showing off his knowledge of said brands.

The book was also pretty long for a fairly predictable plot. It’s over 500 pages long, but it really could’ve been no more than 300 and had the same effect. And for such a lengthy book, the ending was so rushed and unsatisfying it’s like Kwan just got tired of writing. I know this is the first of a trilogy, but individual installments within series still need satisfying endings, and the ending of Crazy Rich Asians wasn’t satisfying in the slightest. Kwan gives us a plot twist (I’m sure everyone who’s seen the movie knows what I’m referring to) that I will admit I wasn’t expecting, but he doesn’t expand on it at all. He just drops it in the last five pages and that’s it: the end of the book. Anticlimactic as hell. For a book that basically thrives on gossip, Kwan glosses over the juiciest moment in the book and the ending is just unsatisfying. Kwan should’ve spent less time describing gardens and golden statues and $200,000 dresses and more time describing the most interesting scene in the entire book. I’m sure the ends I was hoping would be tied up at the end of this book will be tied up at some point in the next two installments, but I don’t think it’s too much to ask for each installment in a series to have a satisfying ending. Any good writer knows how to end a book while still leaving room for anticipation for the next. Kwan absolutely fails to do this with Crazy Rich Asians.

I didn’t find the book completely terrible, though! Two-dimensional characters and a disappointing ending aside, Kwan definitely did deliver 500 pages of the mind-numbing gossip, lavish goods, and drama I was expecting. The characters might have been flat, but the dialogue (while not all that strong either) helped me get a better sense of just how crazy these Asians were. From Nick’s mother and her obsession with finding out anything she can about her son’s American-raised girlfriend, to the jealous, hateful girls who do their best to let Rachel know she is not welcome in Singapore, to the gossiping cousins who give Rachel insight to the inner workings of Singapore’s finest, Crazy Rich Asians is anything but lacking in gossip and drama. Plus it was pretty fun to read about the incredible excess in these people’s lives like yoga studios in planes and dinnerware trimmed in gold. Of course it was a reminder that compared to these people I will live the broke life until the day I die, but I’m always fascinated by the things people spend their money on. It’s part of the reason I allow myself to indulge in the occasional episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Rich people are fun to watch. They provide a nice escape from my particularly boring life, and that’s exactly what this book did for me.

So Crazy Rich Asians wasn’t the best written book I’ve ever picked up, but it was still a fun read. If you’re looking for depth and intricacies and something not like a long TMZ article, this is not the book for you. There isn’t a hint of sophisticated writing in all 527 pages. However, if you can stick with fluff, side plots, constant point-of-view switching, and paragraphs dedicated to decadence most of us will never experience, by all means give this one a try. My next step is to watch the film; I’ve heard great things about it, so this may be one of those rare times where a movie is better than the book. But that’s something I’ll have to wait until I’ve watched the movie to judge. In the meantime, big thanks to Kevin Kwan for reminding me how poor I am!

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