The Best Drama is Always in the Back of the House: The Family Chao by Lan Samantha Chang

My husband thinks my passion for shows like “Succession” is a little nutty, and he’s probably right. There’s enough drama in the day to day coming from the news, why feel the need to add Roy family dysfunction into the mix?

“Because I just freaking love it,” I say. “The DRAMA.” (Also, I’m totally #TeamRoman. No, maybe #TeamKendall. Or maybe #TeamWambgams. Ahhhh, see? It’s delicious!)

He should know better, though — this insatiable desire for all things crazy, for me, is firmly cemented in literature. The best crazy always comes from family, and Lan Samantha Chang’s “The Family Chao” is a perfect example. Picked up on a college drop-off at the wonderful Skylark Bookshop, it caught my eye as part of a display paying homage to President Obama’s most recent summer books list. Color me impressed — I had actually read three of them already, and seeing I was on a roll, “The Family Chao” seemed like a logical pick.

(As a complete aside though — unless Barack is multi-tasking and listening to audio books in his sleep, there’s no way he read all of “To Paradise.” No. Way.)

Chang’s story of a tyrannical father and his three sons, each trying to advance their dreams and shed the various assigned identities collected over time, is all at once engaging, desperate and emotional. Dagao, Ming and James, all young adult men vying to escape their father’s expectations, or lack thereof, find themselves forced to pull together as they navigate a murder investigation in the small town of Haven, Wisconsin.

It would be foolish for me to attempt to relate to one of the most significant themes of this novel — that of coming to grips with multi-faceted racial identities in a community and country where yours is not the predominant one. But it doesn’t make it any less compelling to read. And there are threads the casual reader can pull to knit their own connection to the narrative — familial expectations, for example. Misplaced or unrequited love. Fierce loyalty to a dream of something bigger than yourself. The determination not to fail, whether it be in the kitchen or in a relationship. These are all the stories that transcend gender, ethnicity, geography and even time.

And speaking of the kitchen … when is a companion piece with all The Family Chao recipes landing on a bookshelf? Because damn, can this family cook. At a minimum, I at least need an invite to the Christmas Eve party. That is a FEAST.

I loved this book and think it makes for a splendid book club choice, as there’s a lot to dissect here. Pick it up, order out and enjoy.

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