Lemme tell ya…if you’re in the market for an absolutely hilarious novel, that will have your rapt attention, from beginning to end, look no further than Jesse Q. Sutanto’s Dial A For Aunties.
The main character, Meddy Chan, is a photographer in her family’s wedding business. Over the years, Meddy has been witness to a collage of nuptial moments leading up to the main event; joyous brides, “groomzillas,” the emotions of family and friends, the unexpected hiccups as well as the plans that go off without a hitch. And with the trained eye of an artist, she skillfully captures the beauty and magic of the most important day in her clients’ lives. But Meddy needs some bliss of her own. Professionally, she is unfulfilled. Personally, she’s unlucky in love. Now, if you were to ask Meddy what’s holding her back on both counts, she would likely point to one source. Her family. Specifically, her mother and three aunties. Not only does 26 year old Meddy share a home with her mother (while her aunties live within walking distance,) but she also works with the four of them in the family business. Simply put, the Chans have taken the concept of close-knit family to its extreme. And for Meddy the weight of expectation is suffocating. Her situation is further complicated when Meddy’s family decides to meddle in her personal life, coaxing her into going on a blind date that ends about as badly as any blind date has in the history of blind dates…which is saying a lot. The incredible story that follows involves hiding a dead body, pulling off a high-priced wedding plagued with mishaps, returning millions of dollars in stolen merchandise, and did I mention the bit about hiding a dead body? Well, yes, there is that. In addition, the reader is treated to a touch of romance, when a gentleman from Meddy’s past re-enters her life, and lawd-have-mercy, the sparks do fly!
Dial A For Aunties is sooooo damn funny. The way Meddy’s family awkwardly negotiates their traditional values (and superstitions) with the inescapable norms of modern times, had me doubled-over with laughter. The moments of sibling rivalry between Meddy’s mother and aunties and the parental overreach on constant display are hysterical and often ill-timed. Yet these moments are products of the immense loyalty and love the Chan women have for each other. Meddy must draw from this reservoir whether she likes it or not.
Similar to the Crazy Rich Asians series, Dial A For Aunties shines a light on Chinese-American culture. In this case, Sutanto presents a portrait of Chinese-Indonesians, both immigrant and American-born, steeped in a tradition of history, language, family-lore, and food. As an inquisitive reader, I relished this aspect of the novel.
Everything about Dial A For Aunties is wonderful, even its implausible ending. No spoilers, though! Part rom-com, part mystery (of sorts), part family dramedy, if you’ve been doing a lot of heavy reading lately, Dial A For Aunties is a perfect respite.