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Jade Chang's 'The Wangs vs. The World': EW Review

Posted on

We gave it a B+

Charles Wang—proud patriarch, self-made millionaire, reigning cosmetics king of Bel-Air—has spent nearly his entire adult life swaddled in the cozy cashmere-plush embrace of the American dream. Until he is rudely awakened one day to the grim reality of a very American failure, brought on by the 2007 financial crisis and his own disastrous business decisions. Now it’s all gone: the manicured villa and booming factories, the speedboats and flat-screens and SUVs, repossessed by “some small-hearted official with a clipboard and a grudge.” But at least he has his beloved children: oldest daughter Saina, a disgraced New York art star now living in bucolic Catskills exile; college sophomore Andrew, an aspiring comedian and semiprofessional virgin; and Grace, the death-obsessed stylista and adored baby of the family. There’s also one car that has somehow eluded the long arm of the taxman, a powder blue 1980 Mercedes station wagon just big enough to fit them all. And so Charles grabs his suitcase and his quietly seething second wife, fetches Grace from her Santa Barbara boarding school and Andrew from his dorm room in Arizona, and sets off toward Saina’s New York farmhouse to seek out some still-hazy destiny, “a troupe of Chinese Okies fleeing a New Age Dust Bowl.”

As the Wangs wend their way from the monied canyons of California through roadside Texas motels and crumbling Louisiana mansions, Chang packs her pages nearly as tightly as the Mercedes, piling on wry observations of everything from Asian immigrant culture and faded Southern gentry to fashion-blog etiquette and the boho bourgeoisie’s obsession with authenticity. If it all feels a little overstuffed, her breezy tangents and keen character sketches are also half the fun, and each Wang comes alive in their own memorable, messily human ways. Should Charles return to China to claim his long-abandoned birthright? Can Saina find a second act? Will Andrew ever make it past third base? Maybe wisely, Chang chooses not to answer every question, but her brash, bighearted debut smartly recasts what the definition of a quintessentially American story can be in 2016.