Saturday, December 8, 2018

Crazy Rich Asians

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan (2013)

Since this has been made into a popular movie, you probably know the basics. Nicholas Young is bringing his girlfriend Rachel Chu to Singapore for the summer because his best friend is getting married. But he hasn't told Rachel much about his family, who are extraordinarily wealthy and inhabit a social sphere that Rachel probably doesn't realize exists. He thinks there will be no problem with this. It's as though he's never actually met his own family or friends before.

His cousin Astrid - one of the two characters I like in this book (the other being Rachel) - tries to warn him, but Nick is pretty stupid and won't listen to her. So of course Rachel is caught completely by surprise, his family won't accept her, some of his acquaintances decide to try and sabotage their relationship, and basically it's like a terrible reality show with a tacked-on happy-ish ending that doesn't actually make sense.

These people are mostly all horrible and nobody actually learns anything during the course of the story. Nobody grows as a person or learns anything new. Perhaps Nick realizes he should have been more forthcoming with Rachel, but that's it. (Minor rant: he also "learns" that if a woman breaks up with you, you should continue to pursue her until you get her back, because obviously women do not know what they actually want and no probably doesn't mean no.) Everyone is completely self-centered, vapid, and uncaring about anyone not in their social sphere. It's hard for me to like anything about that.

The writing was a bit forced in parts, too. For one thing, grown women in this story are constantly giggling at odd times that don't make sense. Some of the dialogue was also a big unrealistic, such as when Rachel discovers a nasty prank in her room, a kind person asks if she's ok, and she says, "No, no, I'll be fine. I'm just shaking involuntarily." Hello, let me narrate my signs of distress right now.

Here's what I did like: I liked Rachel and Astrid and their stories. Astrid was having marital difficulties (spoiler: they were fabricated, which was a totally cheap plot point), and was the only wealthy character who was anything other than a collection of eccentricities slapped together on the page. Rachel, as a "regular person" was the only other one I could really relate to. She has this great boyfriend but he hasn't shared much about his life, keeping some pretty key information from her and then just setting her down into the middle of it all and leaving her to deal with it. I felt bad for her. Nick was ok, there just wasn't much to him and, as I said, he's kind of stupid.

I also liked the settings, which were mostly in parts of Singapore and Hong Kong. As you may know if you've been reading this blog for a while, I visited Hong Kong in 2012 and I really like reading books that are set there. That's probably one of the reasons I ended up reading this, and I did enjoy reading about parts of Hong Kong that I recognized.

I also like the cover design. Simple, yet eye-catching.

I don't even know what made me pick this book up, to be honest. I don't enjoy wealthy entitled people being horrible, but I guess I hoped there would be more to it. Especially given that it's over 500 pages long. Surely there would be some real substance here. There's not.

I almost put the book down several times in favor of something else (I had the new Liane Moriarty on deck!) but wanted to find out what would become of Astrid's marriage. It wasn't really worth it. And once again, I always find much more to say about a book I don't really like than one I do. I'm actually rather curious how the movie compares and I may still see it, since most of this is about the settings and clothing and I think it might be visually entertaining. Have you seen it? What did you think?

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Working Stiff

Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner by Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell (2014), narrated by Tanya Eby

I bought this audiobook impulsively when Audible was having a sale and I was in the mood for memoirs. I had never heard of this one, but was intrigued by the description as it says she worked as a medical examiner in the wake of 9/11.

Judy Melinek intended to be a surgeon, but the grueling schedule wasn't for her (and, to be honest, didn't sound like it was very healthy for her patients either.) So she quit her residency and began working as a forensic pathologist in New York in the summer of 2001. Mostly, the book was more thematic than linear, with chapters focused on different types of deaths like homicides, suicides, accidents, and those from substance abuse. She talks about her experiences performing autopsies, the things she looked for, and what she learned.

It was about 3/4 of the way through the book when she talks about 9/11 and its aftermath. Although that was what reeled me in, and I was initially disappointed that it wasn't more of a focus of the book, I found everything about her job so fascinating that I'm glad she shared so much of it. Obviously 9/11 was a huge catastrophe, but what really set it apart from her other work was the scale, and the need to devise a different workflow. The actual work was similar, except that there were a lot of, um....incomplete bodies, which affected the organizational system. I'm not going to get more specific here because it goes into a territory that is not going to be comfortable for a lot of people.

So that's one important thing to know about this book. It's pretty graphic, and it has to be in order to get a feel for what Melinek's job is actually like. If you are easily grossed out or upset by things having to do with the human body, things that can happen to it, and vivid descriptions of horrific deaths, this is not the book for you. However, I find this kind of thing fascinating. And so does Judy Melinek. Of course she was affected by some of the things she saw. There was even one situation in which she paused over a body bag containing more than one small child (from a plane crash that happened just a couple of months after 9/11), and a coworker quickly volunteered to take that job. He knew she had young children.

Mostly though, she wasn't bothered, and it didn't make her worry more for her family. She saw a lot of death and knew that the more horrific accidents were actually pretty rare. She's just extremely interested in the human body and loves learning more about it, and happens to not be especially bothered by dead people. She talked a lot about her mentors and what she learned from them, and she also touched on her father's death when she was a teenager and how that has shaped her view of suicide and affected how she interacts with the families who are left behind.

It was a fairly short book (the hardcover edition is 258 pages) and the narrator was great, so I was pretty engrossed and flew through it. It was a great impulse buy and exactly what I wanted to listen to at the time. If you're interested in this kind of science, or just like learning about unusual jobs, I recommend it.