Monday, October 10, 2022

Review: Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto

When people ask me what I like to read, I generally tell them that it's easier to tell them what I don't since that's a much smaller list. Then I go on to tell them that I don't read books with bodies or blood in them. But sometimes I do, especially when the book is a delightful caper of a book like Jesse Q. Sutanto's Dial A for Aunties. This is not a mystery. You know from the very start that Meddelin Chan, the twenty-six year old photographer for her family's wedding industry business, has inadvertently killed the blind date her mother arranged for her via a dating app. This is a rom-com of sorts but it is also a goofy and entertaining tale of family and what we do for those we love.

Meddy has always done what was expected of her in her large, female Indo-Chinese family. Unlike her father and uncles and male cousins, she hasn't left her mother and her aunties at the first opportunity. In fact, she hasn't left them at any opportunity she's had. They may be slightly kooky, but she knows what she owes them: everything. Except she sacrificed her dream college to go to school close to home. She agreed to be a wedding photographer when she had different photography aspirations. She even gave up her college boyfriend, never introducing him to her family, when he asked her to move across the country with him, so she could be there for her mother and aunties. She is the very image of a dutiful daughter. And now her dutifulness is causing her problems, having gone on the date that her mother arranged and unintentionally killed him. But when she tells her mother, who tells her aunties, what has happened, they are determined to help her get rid of the body in what becomes a complete comedy of errors during an enormous wedding they're working and that has the potential to make or break almost everything.

With the love of Meddy's life, her college boyfriend reappearing in the person of the exclusive resort owner, her aunties and her mom coming up with crackpot ideas that only complicate an already out of control situation, and a dead body that keeps getting moved around a la Weekend at Bernie's, this is a nutty and highly entertaining screwball read. Sutanto has managed to work some things about Indonesian Chinese culture in and around the delightful and highly improbable plot and the characters of the mother and aunties are clearly a love letter to Sutanto's own family. Meddy narrates the story both in the present and during her years in college dating Nathan, weaving what went wrong then with everything that is going wrong now. She is a fun, empathetic character, exasperated with her family but as fiercely loyal to them as they are to her. The family dynamics might be exaggerated and the aunties can be caricatures but it will all make you laugh. The plot is completely over the top bananas. The effect of the whole thing is utterly charming and I plan to run right out and buy the next book.

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