Monday, March 26, 2018

Number One Chinese Restaurant: I only hold grudges when they benefit me

Normally when I'm browsing through NetGalley, I request books I've heard of, usually from fellow bloggers, or else it's an author I'm familiar with. But every once in a while something will catch my eye and I figure I'll give it an whirl. And thus did I come across Number One Chinese Restaurant. I received a copy in exchange for an honest review.

Let's see the piece that made me think, "Yeah I should check this out." I mean besides the "Chinese Restaurant" bit, because honestly, that definitely played a part.
"Generous in spirit, unaffected in its intelligence, multi-voiced, poignant, and darkly funny, Number One Chinese Restaurant looks beyond red tablecloths and silkscreen murals to share an unforgettable story about youth and aging, parents and children, and all the ways that our families destroy us while also keeping us grounded and alive."
 Multi-voices AND darkly funny? Those are things I like so let's do this.

So, what's it about?

The Han family has run a Chinese restaurant for years and since the passing of their father, sons Jimmy and Johnny run the place. Well, these days mostly the younger son Jimmy taking care of the day-to-day business, though he resents the restaurant his father built and dreams of something more upscale. Also he's an asshole. Really a self-centered, short-tempered asshole. Not an entertaining one either.

Jimmy decides not only is he going to open a new restaurant that doesn't deign to the things The Duck House does, but he's going to get out from under the thumb of Uncle Pang, who's sort of like the godfather, though he seems to operate independently of a larger mob. You'd think this might make Jimmy sympathetic. You would be wrong.

The brother Johnny has been away in Hong Kong so he hasn't been involved with the restaurant for a few months and doesn't really know what's going on back at home.

There are two other main characters we get POVs from, Jack and Nan, two long-time employees of The Duck House. Nan worked her way up to managing the waitstaff while Ah-Jack is a longtime waiter. Nan and Jack met when Nan first made her way to the US. There's a connection between the two but the age difference (she's 3+ decades younger) and Jack's marriage meant they remained close friends for years.

Certain events take place involving those mentioned above, plus Johnny's daughter and Nan's son leading to familial squabbles and the stress of opening a new restaurant.

Overall this had the makings of something that I think could have been right up my alley but this didn't do it for me. I don't need the characters to be likable but if they're going to be unlikable they should be interesting and for the most part these weren't. There were glimpses where I thought something really good was going to happen, or I was going to start really getting into the story, but unfortunately it never really happened.

The writing is fine and I liked bits and pieces, like
"Many Chinese women spoke with voices so melodious and bright that the language sounded like a gentle, teasing song; his mother was not one of those women. She emphasized every word as others might slap a table. When she was allowed to talk without interruption, the effect was like waiting out a rainstorm under a tin roof."
See, that's great. But the story didn't do it for me. Also, I need to stop believing publishers and book jackets that describe a book as "funny" because I feel like very rarely is it the case. I don't know if I can blame this book for that though, since this is a regular problem and I need to remember this.

Not terrible, but not great either.

Gif rating:
Title quote from page 13, location 2276

Li, Lillian. Number One Chinese Restaurant. Henry Holt & Co., 2018. NetGalley.