Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Review: Family Trust by Kathy Wang

Money.  And the expectation of future money. There's probably nothing else in this world more easily able to tear apart a family, at least a wealthy family. Children want their (unearned) inheritance. First wives and second wives are at odds. First (ex)wives want their children to come into the cash while second wives want compensation for the time they spent catering to the dying. It all sounds so privileged and crass. But that's what makes for such fascinating reading, right? The low, grubbiness of it all. Kathy Wang has certainly captured this, and so much more, in her new novel, Family Trust.

Stanley Huang is dying of pancreatic cancer. His ex-wife Linda, who spent more than three decades with Stanley and is the mother of his children, wants to make sure that Fred and Kate inherit Stanley's wealth, a wealth she spent a lot of time building up for Stanley through shrewd investments and the like. Mary, Stanley's second, much younger wife, has no knowledge of his financial situation other than that they have money. With Stanley actively dying, she now has to worry what she will do once he's gone. Kate and Fred want to have some idea how much they each stand to inherit so they know how much their lives will be eased, especially once those lives descend into turmoil. But Stanley's cagey, not wanting to disclose anything to anyone. He just wants everyone to be there for him, doing his bidding whenever he wants. With who knows how much money on the line, Stanley's family tries, at least half-heartedly and sometimes more than a little grudgingly, to give him what he wants in the few months he has left.

Before his diagnosis, Stanley was self-involved, possessed of a nasty temper, and desirous of being seen as a successful and smart man. First wife Linda is financially savvy, emotionally remote, and generally content in her life post-divorce, even if divorce is still a little scandalous in her group of friends. She has washed her hands of Stanley as best she can but their shared children and this terminal diagnosis mean she cannot completely walk away from him. Along with tending her garden, occasionally babysitting her grandchildren, and astutely managing her money, she is discovering the appeal of online dating for the first time. Fred is a Harvard Business School grad who bemoans his mediocrity, at least as measured by Silicon Valley culture. He is dating an attractive, blonde, Bulgarian woman who works in sales at Saks and he is generally content with her except when she pressures him about marriage and blithely spends money he can't really (or doesn't want to) afford to spend. Kate is a director at a highly successful tech company. Having gotten in on the ground floor of the business before it took off, ala Google and Apple, means that she can afford to support her husband after he quits his job to attempt his own start-up, even if his presence in his attic home office doesn't translate into a bigger role in raising their two young children. In fact, Kate doesn't have any idea what Denny does up in the attic all day anyway. She is afraid to want more for herself than the life she's settled for. Mary, Stanley's second wife, speaks very little English and her step-children don't seem to like her very much although it is clear that Stanley dotes on her. She has been devoted to his care and comfort for the nine years of their marriage but the months after his diagnosis are the most pressure filled and fraught of all as she faces her own family's interest in her future financial situation and her step-children's interests being diametrically opposed to hers.

Wang carefully draws each of these characters and all of the factors going on in their lives as the novel progresses, slowly revealing what each character's ultimate desire is. The chapters alternate between the five main characters, although Mary doesn't have a chapter from her point of view until quite late in the novel, leaving her motives murky and subject to interpretation by the others for a long time. Because the reader sees each character's circumstances, Stanley's diagnosis is almost an after thought and the greedy need to know Stanley's intentions and the size of their bequests comes across as grasping and selfish. Of course, Silicon Valley, as portrayed here doesn't come off much better, nor does the insular, wealthy Taiwanese-American community. The Huang family's strained dynamic is on full display, only complimented by professional pressure and presumed, or sometimes very real, racism, sexism, nepotism, and cronyism. The novel starts off quite slowly and somewhat less than engagingly but it does eventually pick up, with the reader interested in finding out just how much money Stanley has, what Kate's husband is doing and whether she'll finally have the push to go after what she really wants, the truth about Linda's new online beau, and how Fred is going to improve his business standing and where his relationship is headed. Yes, there really are that many plot threads, and a few more besides. None of the characters are particularly sympathetic but their status seeking, family loyalty, and reactions to cultural pressures are interesting to watch as an outsider. This is very definitely a novel of "rich people problems" but don't we all sometimes fantasize about having these sorts of problems? Spending a few hours between the covers of this one will deliver just that, and maybe an appreciation for your own problems instead.

For more information about Kathy Wang and the book, check out her webpage, like her author page on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter or Instagram. Check out the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and William Morrow for sending me a copy of the book for review.

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