The breathing space between the relative-intensive holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas seems like an appropriate time to read a family road trip saga. The Wangs vs. the World is one of the most satisfying books in this genre that I’ve read in quite a while. The Wangs start out as a wealthy Chinese American family. The father, Charles, has built a fortune in makeup, but loses it when he overextends himself on a loan to develop a new line, just in time for the financial crash. Foreclosed and broke, he takes off with his second wife Barbra in his deceased first wife’s perfectly maintained Mercedes, towing a trailer full of product to a customer in Louisiana. They make stops to take his teenage daughter Grace out of boarding school in Santa Barbara, his son Andrew out of college in Phoenix, and then head to upstate New York, to land on the doorstep of his successful artist eldest daughter Saina. Here’s what the trip looks like from the eyes of the car:
Just three days on the road and already her powder-blue exterior was covered in a thin veil of drab dust that made her look grimy and uncared for. Across her windshield, a smattering of bugs. Squished into the tread of her tires: gravel, garbage, gum. On her roof, an avian bomb site with white platters ringing shrapnel turds. And hitched to her lovely chrome bumper, a horrible box on wheels, so heavy that it pulled at her screws, loosening them thread by thread…
Inside, things were even worse.
Charles, knees akimbo, farting constantly into the upholstery, was always in her driver’s seat. He had stuffed her door pocket full of ancent maps that must trace their way across some forgotten America, and was constantly jamming his giant sunglasses into her visor, where they’d fall and hit him on the head over and over again.
The characters are all experiencing their own crises, independent of the impending family financial ruin. Andrew, a would-be standup comic, is desperate to lose his virginity, but only to someone he’s seriously in love with. Grace, budding fashion blogger, is still mourning the death of her mother, of whom she has no actual memories. Saina is recovering from a painfully public breakup and devastatingly bad reviews of her most recent art show. Barbra, the stepmother, picked Charles as her husband because of his earning potential, and now struggles with buyer’s remorse. And Charles, despite losing the bulk of the fortune he’s made, wants to spend the last crumbs of it to attempt to buy back the family land in China from the Communists.
Along the way, we visit a New Orleans wedding, Andrew’s evolving standup routine, Saina’s new boyfriend and his unclaimed baggage. It’s a fun and rewarding ride.
author photo: Teresa Flowers