Saturday, August 26, 2023

The Dim Sum of All Things by Kim Wong Keltner


THE DIM SUM OF ALL THINGS was advertised in the back of an old chicklit I thrifted not too long ago. I didn't much care for that chicklit, but I sure perked up when I saw this book. A snarky chicklit about a Chinese heroine unlucky in love in San Francisco? SIGN ME UP. Publishers were so bad about marketing diverse books in the 2000s. I am constantly finding "new" titles that came out 10, 15, 20+ years ago, which were written by authors of color, and so many of them are unbelievably good.

Like this book.

Which you might not believe if you go off the average rating. The reviews for this book are pretty negative but I absolutely adored this book. Lindsey was such a likable heroine. I'm shocked that so many people are saying she isn't. Maybe because she doesn't feel like one of the stereotypically plucky PoC characters that were typical of the aughts, created to be the comic relief or the moral support? Because if you're going into this book expecting stories from a woman who is so grateful to be here, and would gladly be your token Asian friend, Lindsey is not that girl. Lindsey is the opposite of that girl. Lindsey is actually very bitter about the constant fetishization and microaggressions she faces as an Asian woman living in the U.S. at the peak of party culture/raunch culture. She also feels disconnected and embarrassed from her culture, while simultaneously wanting to be more of a part of it, and the biggest part of this book is about Lindsey growing more comfortable with herself and her history-- on her terms.

God, I loved her. Even though this book is written in third person, her narrative is quite colorful and really flavors the prose. If you weren't a party girl, you were going to be pretty bitter and pissed off in the 2000s. So I really related to Lindsey, and loved her for being the bitter bitch that she was. And she's never mean, mind. She's just incredibly cynical. Also, this is honestly one of the most honest and unflinching portrayals of San Francisco that I've ever encountered. The rich history, the gentrification, the diversity, the grossness. I've been to almost all of the places that Lindsey talks about in this book and the descriptions of them were so good. I was not at all surprised to learn that the author lived in the Sunset district. A lot of what she wrote about in this book, I feel like you'd really have to live in the area to know. I thought it was hilarious that Lindsey works for this fake woke vegan newspaper company, and how utterly obnoxious and sanctimonious they were. When she got sent to a diversity meeting at the Palace Hotel just because she's the only Chinese person in her workplace, I guffawed. 

Surprisingly, I also really liked the romance, too. AND IT'S A WORKPLACE ROMANCE! WHAAAAAT. I normally hate those. In my reviews of other aughts chicklits, I have sometimes criticized them for being too dated. And while there are a lot of dated things in this book-- slut-shaming, off-color jokes, the expected aughts fat-phobia-- this book was really progressive in a lot of ways. Even though they play some games of the He's Just Not That Into You variety, Michael is so sweet to her. Their flirting was really cute. HE BUYS HER A HELLO KITTY TOASTER AS A GIFT. Also, I thought it was a clever choice on the author's part to make him of Chinese ancestry but white-passing (he's only a quarter Chinese), because she then discusses, through Lindsey, the privilege that Michael faces as a man who can hide his Asianness, and who can express and identify with his culture solely on his own terms. Lindsey, who very much does not look white, does not have this privilege.

Oh, and the representation of women in this book was also great. Lindsey has a pretty healthy friendship with a Filipinx woman named Mimi. When she goes to this party, there are some "slutty" Asian women with dyed blonde hair that she initially writes off as being snooty and boy crazy, but when Lindsey gets sick at the party and shits her pants, these women take her to the bathroom and CLEAN HER OFF, and are just so nice to her, and it was honestly such a great moment because it was very much a maybe-don't-judge-women-by-how-they-look-and-equate-that-to-their-moral-worth kind of situation. I was kind of afraid that they were going to double-cross her, because the Mean Girl Reverse Uno Card was a frequent plot twist of this time, but nope. They do their good deed and then peace out. Also, I loved that the shitting your pants thing wasn't played for laughs. The 2000s were full of fecal humor, but this was just portrayed as a serious and unfortunate situation.

Lastly, Lindsey at one point goes to China with her grandmother Pau Pau (WHO I LOVED) and this is another really impressive moment in the book because it forces Lindsey to confront some of her own privilege as someone who grew up with relative wealth, which she finds out when she meets her "relatives" and finds out that they have, comparatively, nothing. This is also the portion of the book where she finds out a lot about her grandmother's history, which comes out slowly as they travel across China (good parts and bad), and it was just so beautifully done. Even though Lindsey doesn't like some of the aspects of her trip (like the squatting toilets and some food that doesn't appeal to her finicky tastes), I liked how she appreciated it as a learning experience and grew from it.

I could talk for ages about what I liked about this book but then you might not read it for yourself and I also don't want to spoil any more than I already have. THE DIM SUM OF ALL THINGS is not a perfect book by any means, but it's fun and colorful and real, in a way that a lot of books of this type are not. Even though the ending felt like a little bit of a non-sequitur, I didn't dislike it. I wish this was part of a series because I didn't want to let these characters go. I loved them all. How has this author written so few books? I'm feeling the urge to go out and buy up everything from her backlist. 

4.5 out of 5 stars

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