William Morrow

Family Trust

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November 01, 2018 at 05:23 PM EDT

American literature knows family about as well as anything else — spouses wading through tedium, resentful children carrying on legacies, squabbles escalating at the dinner table. By now the clichés write themselves. Yet debut author Kathy Wang confidently leans into them, spicing up old stories — the tense reunions and fatal betrayals and dying fathers — with fresh faces.

Catalyzed by the cancer diagnosis of patriarch Stanley Huang, Family Trust navigates a Silicon Valley ravaged by greed, gentrification, and cultural transformation. Wang, a Harvard Business School graduate, knows the milieu well — its rhythms, its competition. She brings it alive in chapters that alternate between the Huangs: daughter Kate, supporting a family of four as her husband works on his start-up; son Fred, a Harvard MBA still stuck in a six-figure salary range (the humiliation!); and mom Linda, starting to date in her senior years, having divorced Stanley long ago.

With barbed affection, Wang digs into the headspaces of Kate and Fred, first-generation siblings aspiring to perfection and grandeur, eagerly awaiting details of their impending inheritance. (Stanley’s got money, but also a young new wife.) Their pursuits of aggressive wealth and domestic tranquility, respectively, reflect warped values of American life. Wang writes from a witty, sarcastic distance; she’ll zoom out when the family gathers for a meal, reveling in their dysfunction, before tightening around a pivotal character moment, the prose suddenly awash with warmth.

But Family Trust gets only so much out of the minutiae; it occasionally plods, unlike more streamlined novels of its type. At least Wang has her setting: She depicts Silicon Valley with seductive specificity, telling tales of instant billionaires and offering glimpses of irritable geniuses changing the world. Then there’s Linda, Family Trust‘s cranky heart, whose chapters read like melancholy short stories. Linda ascends her Tigerlily dating app’s price ladder, hopelessly hunting for a romantic match. She bumps into her ex-husband with riotous disdain and pity. She may be judgmental, impatient, and a little bitter, pondering ideas like, “Some things in life were worth being rude for.” But she’s too irresistible to deny, with enough life and pain and bite to fill out a novel of her own — and too much for this Family to contain. B

Family Trust

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